June 1st 2017

One of the first books on poetry I read was by Lin Yu Tang, called The Gay Genius. The book was a biography about the great Chinese poet Su Tung-p’o, regarded by most Chinese to be in the same rank is Li Po and Du Fu. While later critics saw Tang’s biography as marred by his own political leanings, his characterization of Su Tung-p as an inveterately happy man remains, as far as I know, true to the poet.
Su Tung-p’o often criticized the government, while also being an official, was sympathetic to the plight of the poor and always, to a fault, disdained fraudulence and corruption.  The consequence was increasing antagonism with powerful functionaries and eventual banishment and exile. Su Tung-p’o was asked once why he could not show some discretion. When there is a fly in my soup, he said, I must spit it out.
The attempt by officials to punish Su Tung-p’o, to wring some concession or penitence from the poet, failed time and again. No matter how extreme the exile, including the island of Hainan, the poet always made friends, became well-loved by whatever community he joined, wrote hundreds of letters,  including to his wife, climbed peaks, drank wine and wrote poems, hence the title of the book—The Gay Genius.
We live in interesting times. I aspired to be like him as a teen-ager. I still do. Awful as the world can be, and the people in it, we only have one lifetime in which to be happy.
Here by Mount Lo-fu all four seasons are spring—
Joquats, arbutus, berries, one new taste after another.
Daily I devour lichees, three hundred at a time,
don’t care how long I stay here south of the mountains!
| Su Tung-p’o
····blossoms—the tree each day becoming
········a tree
| bottlecap
152 June 1st 2017

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