The Ill-Fortuned House

Ch'ang-an has many great mansions,
they crowd the avenues east and west.
But sometimes within their red-lacquered gates
rooms and galleries stand empty.
Owls hoot from pine and cassia branches,
foxes hide in thickets of orchid and chrysanthemum;
somber mosses, yellow leaves strew the ground,
and at twilight the scudding winds keep whirling by.
The first owner was a general and statesman,
accused of misconduct, exiled to the Pa-Yung border.
His successor, a high-ranking court official,
took sick and died in these rooms.
Then four or five tenants in succession
met one unhappy event after another.
For a full ten years now
occupants have all been unlucky.
Wind and rain have made holes in the eaves,
snakes and rats burrow through the walls.
People, suspicious, no longer dare to buy;
day by day the builders' work tumbles into decay.
Ah, that minds of unenlightened people
should be so stupid and obtuse!
They only fear disaster will overtake them,
never stop to think where it comes from.
So now I write this poem
hoping to dispel misunderstanding.
Those holding important government posts
are well on in years, draw generous pay.
But weighty powers are hard to sustain for long,
men in high position easily toppled.
Pride springs from abundance of possessions,
seniority is nothing but a gift of fate.
Power, position, stipend, seniority —
all four are bandits waiting day and night to fell you!
However auspicious the site you dwell in,
who is safe from their incursions?
Using a small matter to illumine a big one,
I borrow the house analogy, apply it to the state.
Both Chou and Ch'in were housed between the Yao and the Han-ku —
no difference in their dwelling.
Yet one flourished eight hundred years,
the other met death in the Wang-i Palace.
So I say of both families and nations —
it's people who are ill-fortuned, not their houses!
Author of original: 
Po Ch├╝-i
Rate this poem: 


No reviews yet.