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Selected Poems of Su Dongpo (Su Shi)

Translated by Jiann I. Lin & David Young

Bilingual Edition

We find timeless expressions of human experience in the poems of Su Dongpo (1037-1101), translated with grace and power by Lin and Young. We follow Dongpo through his life of multiple political exiles. From early in his life he ponders the transitory nature of reality with beauty and a sober lightness:

“back to those earlier scenes / and the clouds of yellow dust along the roads”

“I lean on the railing, / my spirit flies away, / and I can’t call it back”

“The red-skirted beauty / turns into a fairy // the long flute carries / a lasting note of sadness”

“our only worries? / Moonset / and empty cups”

(Poems 1, 7, 34, & 45)

Past mid-life a new perspective grows with energy, laughter, and tears:

“Chilly spring air / for ten days / I haven’t stepped out of the house // and so I didn’t notice / how the willows have turned green / stroking the whole village // ... // This day one year ago / I walked a long way / through mountain roads and passes // the plum blossoms / shining in the drizzle / nearly broke my heart.”

(Poem 50)

Su Dongpo’s sigh of older age carries a tender resolve laced with measured sorrow:

“I’m like a little boat / sensing an expanse / of endless water // here under groves of trees / face to face in the bedroom / listening all night to the rain”

(Poem 83)

David Young’s new and selected poems is Field of Light and Shadow. His most recent books are The King’s a Beggar: A Study of Shakespeare’s Epilogues, and Moon as Bright as Water: 17 poems by Qin Guan. He taught for many years at Oberlin College. His friends through translation include Miroslav Holub, Petrarch, Du Fu, Rilke, and Paul Celan.


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Cover Photograph by William L. Fink

Jiann I. Lin was born in 1940 in Taipei, Taiwan and became interested in reading, history, and classical Chinese literature in middle school. He received a BA in English from National Taiwan University-Taipei. In 1963 he arrived in the U.S. for graduate studies (MA in History, University of Wisconsin-Madison; MLS in Library Science, State University of New York at Albany). He served for 38 years in the Oberlin College Library East Asian Collection and is an Emeritus East Asian Specialist Librarian.


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The Old Coastline (2019): She has been called “the Dutch Elizabeth Bishop.” These are poems that readers cherish for their intensity, intimacy, and cinematic effects. (6"x9" paperback, 126 pages, ISBN: 978-1-936671-55-7, $17.00).

Poems in English & Chinese with translation notes

288 pages

Video Introduction & Poetry Reading

June 27, 2020: A Word’s Worth Review
Readers can visualize Su Dongpo wandering through remote Chinese provinces, living through exiles because of his political affiliations and writing quatrains about his excursions, sometimes involving heavy drinking during his explorations. … The wandering and exposure to rain, snow, and seasonal changes sometimes troubles this vagabond poet, and he often expresses a weariness with which aging readers can identify. … Su Dongpo offers eloquent and peaceful reading during this time of stress and isolation due to disease and political upheaval in our country. Read the Review

Spring Flowers, Autumn Moon (2024): From prince to prisoner, Li Yu (937-978) came to know sorrow, homesickness, and the need to reconcile his melancholy with the passage of seasons and the fragility of life.

(6"x9" paperback, 126 pages, ISBN: 978-1-936671-94-5, $20).