More Translations from the Chinese/Illness and Idleness

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More Translations from the Chinese  (1919)  by Bai Juyi, translated by Arthur Waley
Illness and Idleness


[Circa A.D. 812]

Illness and idleness give me much leisure.
What do I do with my leisure, when it comes?
I cannot bring myself to discard inkstone and brush;
Now and then I make a new poem.
When the poem is made, it is slight and flavourless,
A thing of derision to almost every one.
Superior people will be pained at the flatness of the metre;
Common people will hate the plainness of the words.
I sing it to myself, then stop and think about it . . .
The Prefects of Soochow and P'ēng-tsē[1]
Would perhaps have praised it, but they died long ago.
Who else would care to hear it?
No one to-day except Yüan Chēn,
And he is banished to the City of Chiang-ling,
For three years an usher in the Penal Court.
Parted from me by three thousand leagues
He will never know even that the poem was made.

  1. Wei Ying-wu, eighth century A.D., and T'ao Ch'ien, A.D. 365-427.