New Year's Eve

Seeing the Year Out

Want to know what the passing year is like?
A snake slithering down a hole.
Half his scales already hidden,
How to stop him from getting away?
Grab his tail and pull, you say?
Pull all you like--it does no good.
The children try hard not to doze,
Chatter back and forth to stay awake,
But I say let dawn cocks keep still!
I fear the noise of watch drums pounding.
We've sat so long the lamp's burned out.
I get up and look at the slanting Dipper.
How could I hope next year won't come?
My mind shrinks from the failures it may bring.
I work to hold on to the night
While I can still brag I'm young.


White Crane Hill

Seacoast wears you out with damp and heat;
my new place is better–high and cool.
In return for the sweat of hiking up and down
I've a dry spot to sleep and sit.
But paths to the river are a rocky hell;
I wince at the water bearer's aching back.
I hired four men, put them to work
hacking through layers of obdurate rock.
Ten days and they'd gone only eight or ten feet;
below was a stratum of solid blue stone.
Drills all day struck futile sparks –
when would we ever see springs bubble up?
I'll keep you filled with rice and wine,
you keep your drills and hammers flying!
Mountain rock must end some time –
stubborn as I am, I won't give up.
This morning the houseboy told me with joy
they're into dirt soft enough to knead!
At dawn the pitcher brought up milky water;
by evening, it was clearer than an icy stream.
All my life has been like this –
what way to turn and not run into blocks?
But Heaven has sent me a dipper of water;
arm for a pillow, my happiness overflows.


Su Tung-p'o
from Selected Poems of Su Tung-p'o
Burton Watson, translator