Autumn Rain, Bai Juyi

The temperature all last week hovered in the high nineties, then it broke one hundred. Summer was early in the Midwest. The inside of the car was hard to cool. The sidewalks were like a furnace. The grass on the lawns withered and browned. It got so that I began singing to myself Phil Collins’ song, I Wish It Would Rain Down. [The video featuring a skit with Phil Collins as an unknown singer filling in, Eric Clapton on guitar, and a janitor, Chester Thomson, taking over the drums, is a must see.]

Yesterday, the blessed rain came down on me.

Bai Juyi has written two poems about Autumn Rain, not summer, but I thought they might chill the soul.

Walking in Night’s Fine Rain

Autumn clouds, vast and lonely
The night is slightly chilly.
And though my clothes are wet
I hear no sound of rain.



Sleeping in an Autumn Rain

A cold night in autumn’s third month,
A lonely old man at peace within.
Lies down late, his lamp gone out,
And soundly sleeps amid the patter of rain.
The fiery ash inside the stove still warm,
Its fragrance adds warmth to his quilted covers.
As dawn comes clear and cold, he does not stir,
While frosted red leaves scattered about the steps.



Notes on Translation

Sadly, in the English translation of the first poem, the repetition of sound and rhyme does not repeat.

Mòmò qiū yún qǐ shāoshāo yèhán shēng dàn jué yīshang shī wú diǎn yì wúshēng.

Interestingly, Mòmò, 漠漠, has a secondary meaning of confused silence, implying one who covers his ears and pretends to listen. Shāo, 稍 is a little and ShāoShāo, very little or slightly.

The melancholy nature of the poems likely dates them to between 815 and 819 when Bai Juyi exiled from the Imperial Court. Compounding his sorrow was his mother’s death and a three year mourning period. He spent his exile in Jiujiang (previously Jiangzhou), near several lakes including Longgan and the larger Poyang, on the southern shores of the Yangtze River in northwest Jiangxi Province.

Lastly, one might wonders about the focus on Autumn Rain. In China, late summer and autumn rainfalls are a typical phenomenon characterized by continuous rainy days and large rainfall amounts. Many Chinese Tang poems and stories were written about the flooding of Lake Dongting along the Yangtze.

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