We cannot wash away our worries with wine or words.
This is the short two line message Li Bai conveys in a long poem called, Farewell to Uncle Yun at Xietiao Tower in Xuanzhou. The message is remarkable for the repetition of the “chou” sound which, in line one, means withdraw 抽 Chōu, followed by the similar sounding word for water, 水 Shuǐ. The context being to withdraw one’s sword to cut the water. Line two repeats the sound with the repetition of worry 愁 Chóu. 愁更愁, chou geng chou, worry upon worry, the idea being that worries beget more worries.
Though I withdraw my sword to cut the water, it still runs
I toast to dispel worry, and create more worry…
The water still flows, though we cut it with our swords,
And sorrow returns, though we drown it with wine…
Li Bai in Xuanzhou with Shūyún
Xuanzhou is modern day Xuancheng, east of Wuhan, west of Shanghai,in southeastern Anhui Province. Shūyún, Li Bai’s uncle Yun, was the Imperial archivist.
The Title: 宣州谢朓楼饯别校书叔云
Xuānzhōu xiètiǎo lóu jiànbié xiào shū shūyún.
Shūyún 叔云, was Li Bai’s uncle Shū 叔. He was an archivist in the Xietao Tower (lóu 楼, storied building) in Xuānzhōu. Xiào shū 校书, literally school book, but also an archivist or librarian. The title and full poem are an oblique reference to the rhyming 5th century poet Xiè tiǎo.
Jiànbié 饯别 is a farewell or parting; broadly speaking, to give a farewell dinner.
Chinese and Pinyin
chou dao duan shui shui geng liu
ju bei xiao chou chou geng chou