Bring on the Wine


Li Bai’s impassioned request to good friends, Cen Can and Dan Qiu, to drink wine, celebrate life, and make merry. I will let the reader decide if it should be “bring on the wine” or “bring in the wine”.

Li Bai’s 將進酒, is usually translated as “bring in the wine.” Phonetically, it is pronounced “jiāng jìn jiǔ” which might be hard to say if drunk, and maybe that is the point. Li Bai often drank alone or with the moon as his only companion. He must have relished this opportunity to drink with friends.

Sir, have you not seen
The waters of the Yellow River falling from heaven
Rushing to sea, not to return again?
Sir, have you not seen
In the Great Hall, the mirrors that grieve for grey hair
That once, in the morning, like black thread, by evening becomes snow
One’s small accomplishment is one’s joy in life
So, let not a golden goblet be empty and face the moon
Friend, if heaven made me, I must have a use
While I have squandered a thousand pieces of gold, and wait their return
Boil a lamb, butcher an ox, be of good cheer
Three hundred cups, drunk at once
Master Cen,
And you, Dan Qiu
Bring on the wine
While I sing you a song
The cups cannot stop!
All I ask is that you lend me your ear
Bells, drums, delicacies and jade are not expensive enough
Oh, how I wish to be drunk and never sober again
Since the beginning of time, a sage is a single thing
Leaving to those who drink, to leave their names behind
A story is told, how the Prince of Chen held feasts at Pingle
With ten thousand cups, wild with joy
So, why does your host speak of having no money?
Because you must buy it, now directly go, I’ll drink with you
Take my lovely horse
And my furs worth a thousand
Better yet, call the boy let him swap both for the finest of wines
And together we three will erase the cares of ten thousand ages.


Original Chinese characters



Meeting a Messenger on his Way to the Capital

Meeting a messenger headed east

As I look down the road, I long for my home far to the east,
A clock sounds, my sleeves are wet with tears
On horse we meet, and I no paper, no pen
So, I rely on a gentleman’s word, tell them all is safe and calm


Gone for years, I long for my home to the east
The imperial bell sounds, my sleeves are wet with tears
On horses we meet, and I no paper, nor brush
So, I am relying on you to say, all is calm, have no fear.


Original Chinese by Cen Can, 岑 參

Rhyme aaba.

逢 入 京 使
故 園 東 望 路 漫 漫
雙 袖 龍 鐘 淚 不 乾
馬 上 相 逢 無 紙 筆
憑 君 傳 語 報 平 安

Notes on Cen Can

Cen Can or Cen Shen, also called Cen Jiazhou (715–770).

Translation is an imprecise and uncertain task.

Line one contains the characters for garden  and east (園 東), for which most translations  substitute the word homeland. In line two, the characters for imperial clock (龍 鐘) are often ignored. Line three is straight forward, “We meet by chance on horse, but I have no pen no paper.” Line four is also clear, “I rely on a gentleman to announce that all is calm and at peace.”

Can we come up with a better sense of Cen Can poem?

Far, far out at the western edge of the imperial empire, the morning sun rises in the east, the imperial clock sounds, signalling all is still well, though the poet knows trouble to be stirring.

Mounted on his horse and busy making his rounds, the poet chances to meet a messenger heading towards the capital. The poet has been shedding tears, whether for fear or longing, we do not know.

Having no pen, no paper, he asks that that the messenger say all is calm and peaceful.

Cen Can held a military assignment in the Northwest Territories. For this reason, perhaps he is speaking of the Tibetan threat. But it is also possible he is speaking of a threat from the north. During the revolt of General An Lushan and the An Shi Rebellion (755 through 763), Cen Can remained a loyalist throughout almost decade long rebellion, the capture of the capital, its recapture, and the defeat of the rebels.

Cen Can was friend to Gao Shi and Du Fu, both of whom he mentions in separate poems; as well as Li Bai, who mentions Cen Can in one of his poems.

French translation, Meeting with a messenger headed east, by Cen Can

Rencontrer un messager dirigé vers l’est 

Loin d’ici, dans l’est j’aimerais soit,
La cloche impériale sonne, mes manches sont mouillé de larmes
Chez les chevaux, nous nous rencontrons,
Et je n’ai pas de papier ni de pinceau.
Je compte sur vous, pour dire, tout est calme, ne craint pas.