“Rain at the time of Cold Food (1082)

Although this isn’t one of my favorite Su Tung-p’o poems from the “Middle Years: 1074-1079” and “First Exile:1080 to 1083,” it does represent one strain in his poetry, not surprising when you consider that this poem was written in the third year of his “exile.”


Since coming to Huang-chou,
this is my third Cold Food festival.
Each year I hate to see spring go,
but it goes anyway, heeding no regrets.
On top of that, this year we’re pestered with rain;
two months now it’s been bleak as fall.
I lie and listen to cherry apple blossoms,
pale pink snow getting dirty in the mud.
Of forces that steal things away in the dark,
the most powerful comes in the middle of the night,
as though a young man were to take to bed sick,
then rise from his sickbed to find his hair gone gray.

COLD FOOD, which comes 105 days after the winter solstice, is a spring festival celebrated by a meal of various foods eaten cold.

Lines 7-12. The lines in which the rain carrying off the cherry apple blossoms is likened to a thief in the night allude to the passage in Cliian Tzu Sec. 6: “You hide your boat in the ovine and your fish net in the swamp and tell yourself they will be safe. But in the middle of the night a strong man shoulders them and carries them off, and in your stupidity you don’t know why it happened.”

Of course I’ve never been “exiled” but I’ve certainly been “pestered with rain” and can identify with “two months now it’s been bleak as fall” since we’ve just gone through a week without rain and haven’t managed much more than two hours of sunshine in that entire span.

And there are certainly days lately when I’ve felt “as though a young man were to take to bed sick,/ then rise from his sickbed to find has hair gone gray.” It’s a common complaint with people my age. Every day is a struggle to hold onto what you’ve long taken for granted.