Bo Juyi’s poems are beautiful in their simplicity—the romance of everyday life, of friendship, of work, of nature.
Much of his poetry expresses great sympathy with people’s suffering and the question of justice in the world, and his work exerted a tremendous influence on later Chinese literature.
The Tang Dynasty was the golden age of Chinese poetry, and Bo Juyi is generally acclaimed as one of China’s greatest poets. He wrote over 2,800 poems, which he had copied and distributed to ensure their survival. For him, writing poetry was a way to expose the ills of society; his was the poetry of everyday human concerns, and along with wine and song, poetry was one of the chief joys of his existence. His poems have an appealing style, written with a deliberate simplicity: it is said that he would rewrite any part of a poem if one of his servants was unable to understand it. His poems were extremely popular in his lifetime, in both China and Japan, and they continue to be read in both countries today.
About the Author
Born to a poor but scholarly family, Bo Juyi (772–846) rose to high government office—until he disagreed with the Emperor over a matter of public policy. In later life he governed several small provinces, and most of his poems were written during this period.
Life of Bo Juyi
772….Born on 20th of 1st month.
800….Passes his examinations.
806….Receives a minor post at Zhou-zhi, near the capital.
807….Made Scholar of the Han Lin Academy.
811….Retires to Wei River, being in mourning for his mother.
814….Returns to Court.
815….Banished to Hsun-yang.
818….Removed to Zhong-zhou.
820….Reprieved and returns to Court.
822….Governor of Hangzhou.
825….Governor of Suzhou.
826….Retires owing to illness.
827….Returns to Chang’an.
829….Settles permanently at Luo-yang.
831….Governor of Henan, the province of which Luo-yang was capital.
833….Retires owing to illness.
839….Has paralytic stroke in tenth month.
846….Dies in the eighth month.
Foreword: The Moral Philosophy of Bo Juyi
Life of Bo Juyi
Poems of Bo Juyi
After Passing the Examination
Escorting Candidates to the Examination Hall
In Early Summer Lodging in a Temple to Enjoy the Moonlight
Watching the Reapers
Going Alone to Spend a Night at the Xianyou Temple
To Li Jian
An Early Levee
Being on Duty All Night in the Palace and Dreaming of Xianyou Temple
Passing Tian-men Street in Chang’an and Seeing a Distant View of Zhong-nan Mountain
Rejoicing at the Arrival of Chen Xiong
Remembering Golden Bells
At the End of Spring
The Poem on the Wall
Fishing in the Wei River
Illness and Idleness
The Chrysanthemums in the Eastern Garden
Poems in Depression, at Wei Village
The Dragon of the Black Pool
The People of Dao-zhou
The Grain Tribute
The Old Harp
The Harper of Chao
The Flower Market
The Chancellor’s Gravel Drive
The Man Who Dreamed of Fairies
The Two Red Towers
The Charcoal Seller.
The Old Man with the Broken Arm
Kept Waiting in the Boat at Jiu-kou Ten Days by an Adverse Wind
Arriving at Hsun-yang
On Board Ship: Reading Youan Zhen’s Poems
Madly Singing in the Mountains
Releasing a Migrant “Yan”
To His Brother Xing-jian, Who Was Serving in Dong-chuan
Starting Early from the Chu-cheng Inn
The Beginning of Summer
Visiting the Xi-lin Temple
Hearing the Early Oriole
Dreaming that I Went with Lu and You to Visit Youan Zhen
To a Portrait Painter Who Desired Him to Sit
The Red Cockatoo
Eating Bamboo Shoots
Having Climbed to the Topmost Peak of the Incense Burner Mountain
Alarm at First Entering the Yang-Tze Gorges
On Being Removed from Hsun-yang and Sent to Zhong-zhou
Planting Flowers on the Embankment
Prose Letter to Youan Zhen
The Fifteenth Volume
Invitation to Xiao Zhu-shi
To Li Jian
The Spring River
After Collecting the Autumn Taxes
Lodging with the Old Man of the Stream
To His Brother Xing-jian
The Pine Trees in the Courtyard
Sleeping on Horseback
Parting from the Winter Stove
Being Visited by a Friend During Illness.
On the Way to Hang-zhuow: Anchored on the River at Night
Stopping the Night at Rong-yang
The Hat Given to the Poet by Li Jian
The Silver Spoon
The Big Rug
Good-bye to the People of Hang-zhuow
Getting Up Early on a Spring Morning
Written when Governor of Suoozhuow
Losing a Slave Girl
Lazy Man’s Song
After Getting Drunk Becoming Sober in the Night
The Grand Houses at Luo-yang
On a Box Containing His Own Works
On Being Sixty
On His Baldness
Thinking of the Past
A Mad Poem Addressed to My Nephews and Nieces
To a Talkative Guest
Climbing the Terrace of Guan-yin and Looking at the City
Climbing the Ling Ying Terrace and Looking North
Dreaming of Youan Zhen
Going to the Mountains with a Little Dancing Girl, Aged Fifteen.
My Servant Wakes Me
Since I Lay Ill
Song of Past Feelings
A Dream of Mountaineering
On Hearing Someone Sing a Poem by Youan Zhen
Daoism and Buddhism
Stories and Poems Related to Bo Juyi
The Story of Miss Li
The Story of Cui Ying-ying
From the Introduction
Bo Juyi was born at Tai-youan in Shansi. Most of his childhood was spent at Rong-yang in Henan. His father was a second-class Assistant Department Magistrate. He tells us that his family was poor and often in difficulties.
He seems to have settled permanently at Chang’an in 801. This town, lying near the northwest frontier, was the political capital of the Empire. In its situation it somewhat resembled Madrid. Luo-yang, the Eastern city, owing to its milder climate and more accessible position, became, like Seville in Spain, a kind of social capital.
Soon afterwards he met Youan Zhen, then aged twenty-two, who was destined to play so important a part in his life. . . .
Of Youan’s appearance at this time we may guess something from a picture which still survives in copy; it shows him, a youthful and elegant figure, visiting his cousin Cui Ying-ying, who was a lady-in-waiting at Court. At this period of his life Bo made friends with difficulty, not being, as he tells us “a master of such accomplishments as calligraphy, painting, chess, or gambling, which tend to bring men together in pleasurable intercourse.” Two older men, Tang Chu and Deng Fang, liked his poetry and showed him much kindness; another, the politician Kong Tan, won his admiration on public grounds. But all three died soon after he got to know them. Later he made three friends with whom he maintained a lifelong intimacy: the poet Liu You-xi (called Meng-de), and the two officials Li Jian and Cui Hsuan-liang. In 805 Youan Zhen was banished for provocative behavior towards a high official. The Tang History relates the episode as follows:
Youan was staying the night at the Fu-shui Inn; just as he was preparing to go to sleep in the Main Hall, the court official Li Shiyouan also arrived. Youan Zhen should have offered to withdraw from the Hall. He did not do so and a scuffle ensued. Youan, locked out of the building, took off his shoes and stole round to the back, hoping to find another way in. Li followed with a whip and struck him across the face.
The separation was a heavy blow to Bo Juyi. In a poem called “Climbing Alone to the Luo-you Gardens” he says:
I look down on the Twelve City Streets—
Red dust flanked by green trees!
Coaches and horsemen alone fill my eyes;
I do not see whom my heart longs to see.
Kong Tan has died at Luo-yang;
Youan Zhen is banished to Jing-men . . .
In 804 on the death of his father, and again in 811 on the death of his mother, he spent periods of retirement on the Wei River near Chang’an. It was during the second of these periods that he wrote the long poem (260 lines) called “Visiting the Wuzhen Temple.” Soon after his return to Chang’an, which took place in the winter of 814, he fell into official disfavor. In two long memorials entitled “On Stopping the War,” he had criticized the handling of a campaign against an unimportant tribe of Tartars, which he considered had been unduly prolonged. In a series of poems he had satirized the rapacity of minor officials and called attention to the intolerable sufferings of the masses. . . .
The remaining years of Bo’s life were spent in collecting and arranging his Complete Works. Copies were presented to the principal monasteries (the “Public Libraries” of the period) in the towns with which he had been connected. He died in 846, leaving instructions that his funeral should be without pomp and that he should be buried not in the family tomb at Xia-guei, but by Ru-man’s side in the Xiang-shan Monastery. He desired that a posthumous title should not be awarded.
Going Alone to Spend a Night at the Xianyou Temple
The crane from the shore standing at the top of the steps;
The moon on the pool seen at the open door;
Where these are, I made my lodging place
And for two nights could not turn away.
I am glad I chanced on a place so lonely and still
With no companion to drag me early home.
Now that I have tasted the joy of being alone
I will never again come with a friend at my side.
Since I lived a stranger in the City of Hsun-yang
Hour by hour bitter rain has poured.
On few days has the dark sky cleared;
In listless sleep I have spent much time.
The lake has widened till it almost joins the sky;
The clouds sink till they touch the water’s face.
Beyond my hedge I hear the boatmen’s talk;
At the street end I hear the fisher’s song.
Misty birds are lost in yellow air;
Windy sails kick the white waves.
In front of my gate the horse and carriageway
In a single night has turned into a riverbed.
On His Baldness
At dawn I sighed to see my hairs fall;
At dusk I sighed to see my hairs fall.
For I dreaded the time when the last lock should go . . .
They are all gone and I do not mind at all!
I have done with that cumbrous washing and getting dry;
My tiresome comb forever is laid aside.
Best of all, when the weather is hot and wet,
To have no topknot weighing down on one’s head!
I put aside my dusty conical cap;
And loose my collar fringe.
In a silver jar I have stored a cold stream;
On my baldpate I trickle a ladle full.
Like one baptized with the Water of Buddha’s Law,
I sit and receive this cool, cleansing joy.
Now I know why the priest who seeks Repose
Frees his heart by first shaving his head.