A mad poem addressed to my Nephews and nieces
by Po Chu-i (772-846)
Translated by Arther Waley
The World cheats those who cannot read;
I, happily, have mastered script and pen.
The World cheats those who hold no office;
I am blessed with high official rank.
Often the old have much sickness and pain;
With me, luckily, there is not much wrong.
People when they are old are often burdened with ties;
But I have finished with marriage and giving in marriage.
No changes happen to jar the quiet of my mind;
No business comes to impair the vigour of my limbs.
Hence it is that now for ten years
Body and soul have rested in hermit peace.
All the more, in the last lingering years
What I shall need are very few things.
A single rug to warm me through the winter;
One meal to last me the whole day.
It does not matter that my house is rather small;
One cannot sleep in more than one room!
It does not matter that I have not many horses;
One cannot ride on two horses at once!
As fortunate as me among the people of the world
Possibly one would find seven out of ten.
As contented as me among a hundred men
Look as you may, you will not find one.
In the affairs of others even fools are wise;
In their own business even sages err.
To no one else would I dare to speak my heart.
So my wild words are addressed to my nephews and nieces.
This poem was written in 835AD when the great Chinese poet Po Chu-i was in his late sixties. In Imperial China everybody who could read and write tried to get into the civil service. Those who succeeded were guaranteed a job for the rest of their working days and a substantial pension at the end of them. This is a lovely poem about contentment in life (As fortunate as me among the people of the world/ Possibly one would find seven out of ten./As contented as me among a hundred men/Look as you may, you will not find one).
Since there is an element of boastfulness in what he says, it may not all be literally true in the factual sense. But the poet is certainly right in asserting that contentment is the principal ingredient in every happy state.