Taking in talkbacks during spring cleaning (part 1)

As the executor of my mother’s estate (and also as the child able to work remotely), I spent a lot of time in Kentucky in 2008. Berea did not have a public library when I was growing up, and I was tickled that it had since acquired a branch that circulated not only books but fishing rods. (Nashville’s has a waitlist for ukelele kits, by the way).

A downtown Richmond bookshop (Paperback Exchange) had been a lodestone of my teen years: the proprietor made a point of saving Dorothy L. Sayers novels for me, and I picked up my copies of Religio Medici and Donne’s poems there as well. I think it was already gone by 1999. At any rate, at a different firetrap in Berea, I picked up a book of French fables and an anthology of Chinese poetry in between obtaining quotes on carpet and recaulking the bathtub.

I opened Sunflower Splendor last night to pick a subject line for my personal blog, and came across this pair, 122 pages and 550-odd years apart:

Su Shih [aka Su Tung-p’o], “Bathing the Infant”

Most people expect their sons to be clever,
My whole life was ruined by cleverness.
I only wish my son to be dull and stupid
And without suffering or hardship to reach the highest rank.

[translated by Chiang Yee; there’s also a 1918 translation in the POETRY magazine archives, and the original title translates to “third day” (the timing of the bathing ritual)]

Ch’ien Ch’ien-yi, “A Rebuttal of [Su] Tung-p’o’s Poem on ‘Bathing the Infant,’ Written on the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month in the year I-ssu [1629]”

Master Tung-p’o, in raising children, was afraid of their being clever;
All my life I was ruined because I was dull and dumb.
I still wish my son to be born cagey and cunning,
So he could drill through heaven and earth to attain the highest rank.

[To be continued . . .]