Late Night Thinking

Today is January 15, 1099, I am an exile in Dan Zhou*. This evening a few old pals came to visit. “It’s such a nice evening with a fine moon, how about we go for a stroll?” They said. Happily I tagged along.

In the western part of the town, we dropped by a temple, passing through some narrow alley, crowded butcher shops and wine stores, where strangers like me were mingling with locals. By the time we got back, it was already midnight. The door was closed, and the ones inside were snoring. Laying aside my walking stick, I let out a laugh. What is gain in life, what is loss? My friends asked what I was laughing about. I was just laughing at myself.

Although I was also laughing at Han Yu**. He was once fishing in a desolate place and couldn’t catch anything, so he thought he should go somewhere far and away, in order to catch big fish. What he didn’t know is, even if you go as far as to the sea, you don’t necessarily catch big fish.

~ Translated by Dot, from Su Shi’s “A Midnight Note To Myself In Dan Zhou,” written in the Song dynasty

*Dan Zhou – a remote seaside town on Hai Nan Island, regarded as “the world’s end” in China

**Han Yu – a famous poet in the Tang dynasty

己卯上元,余在儋州。有老书生数人来过,曰:“良月佳夜,先生能一出乎?” 予欣然从之。步城西,入僧舍,历小巷,民夷杂揉,屠酤纷然,归舍已三鼓矣。舍中掩关熟寝,已再鼾矣。放杖而笑,孰为得失?问:“先生何笑?” 盖自笑也。然亦笑韩退之钓鱼无得,更欲远去,不知走海者未必得大鱼也。

~ 蘇軾 (宋代) <<儋耳夜書>>