Selected Poems of Su Tung-p'o Summary

Su Dongpo

Selected Poems of Su Tung-p’o

Su Dongpo (also known as Su Tung-p’o) (1037-1101) is considered to be one of the greatest poets of the Buddhist tradition. A leading poet of the Song dynasty, which flourished from 960 to 1279, Su had a distinguished career as a civil servant, serving both in the capital and in the provinces. His outspoken criticisms of government reforms which brought hardships to the rural populace eventually resulted in his banishment to an insignificant post in central China. He spent the rest of his career being moved from post to post, never permitted to remain long enough in one place to put down roots.

Most of the poems in this collection concern travel and describe events or scenes actually encountered by the poet. Su Dongpo was clearly influenced by Daoism, particularly in his sensitivity to nature. He was also fascinated by folktales and stories of immortal spirits, elixirs of life, and other popular lore. In Burton Watson’s selection, there are three poetic forms represented plus an excerpt from one of his letters. Most of the poems included are in the shi form, the standard form of Chinese classical verse.

The collection is organized chronologically into five sections. His early poems include poems to the seasons, nature poems, and some travel poems. While Su was inspired by his experiences, he wrote in the Chinese literary tradition and often drew upon the poetic works of his predecessors. Burton Watson’s translations of Su Dongpo are a fine addition to his other major translations of Chinese and Japanese poets.