On Being Stricken with Paralysis, Bai Juyi

Good friends,

Why waste your time in wailing

In sympathy for me?

Surely, in time,

I’ll be strong enough

To move about a bit.

To get about,

On land, there are carrying-chairs,

On water, boats.

So, if I can keep my courage,

And carry on,

What need have I of feet?

Keep Calm, image Wikipedia

Keep Calm and Carry On

The advice is timeless.

Keep Calm and Carry On was a British motivational poster widely distributed in Britain in 1939 in preparation for World War II.

The idea is keep on, keeping on. Buck up Buttercup. Just do it. Don’t Panic. Deal with it. Get up everyday with a smile on your face. Make lemonade from lemons, quilts from rags and scraps. Play the hand you are dealt. And as Kipling said, “Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…”

And a thousand other iterations.

Luoyang, 839

His poetry became his speech.

I could not find the original Chinese for Bai Juyi’s On Being Stricken, but I liked the poem so much I thought I would reproduce it anyway, changing a word or two. The paralysis that Bai Juyi speaks about came about in 839, at the age of 67 or so. Bai Juyi had, by this time, retired from government and taken up residence in a monastery, south of Luoyang in Henan province. Indeed, after the attack which cost him the use of one leg and affected his speech, he took to calling himself the “Hermit of Xianshang” after the name of the Buddhist monastery in which he took refuge.

One additional tragedy was to confront Bai Juyi in his declining years. In 841, the new Emperor Wuzong, a Taoist who began a persecution of Buddhism that would last until the emperor’s death in 846, and coincidentally, the year of Bai Juyi’s death.


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