A Guest Comes

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Du Fu's cottage in Chengdu, Sichuan

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A Guest Comes
        Du Fu 712-770

North of my cottage
        south of my cottage
                everywhere spring waters,
But for visitors
        only gulls
                daily come.
I didn't sweep
        the flower path   
                not expecting guests, 
The gate is open now   
        do come in!
The meal   
        far from the market   
                a simple thing,
Grab a wine cup  
        a poor houshold 
                only old home brew
If you agree 
       I'll invite the old cdger next door
                to join us for a drink,
Across the fence 
        we'll hoot and holler
                and drain our cups!
Dù Fǔ 712-770

Shè nán shì běi jiē chūnshuǐ,
Dàn jiàn qún ōu rìrì lái.
Huājìng bù cénɡ yuán kè sǎo,
Péngmén jīn shǐ wèi jūn kāi.
Páncān shì yuǎn wú jiān wèi,
Zūn jiǔ jiāpín zhǐ jiù wèi.
Kěn yǔ línjū xiāngduì yǐn,
Gé lí hū qǔjìn yú bēi.

Translator: Dongbo 東波

Stephen Owen writes:

"A Guest Comes is a VERY famous poem, one of those occasional performances that some how attain the status of a major cononical text. Through reading poems such as this, a young Chinese reader developed his first, implicit sense of poetic values: later, having developed a mature, individual taste, the same reader might return to reflect on the same poem and find in it satisfactions he never guessed in the first reading. That is how we learn to read poetry. Thus, if an English reader finds here only a pleasant verse welcoming a friend, he must begin anew, begin with the belief that this is a rich and masterful poem, and allow a new sense of poetic values to grow from the belief."

Owen then goes on to explicate one second reading of the poem that reveals a rather sly and prickly Du Fu;

"Magistrate Cui crosses the threshold into the simplicity of Du Fu's world...plain food and old wine (in the case of Chinese wine, the newere the better). As conditions become plainer, the poetic style become more elegant; literally;

For supper...the market is far...
no multiple flavors;
For wine...the household is poor...
only the former brew.

And Magistrate Cui is to be assured by such courtliness of phrasing that the plainness of his provision is the simplicity of a man of taste, not a mere peasant crudeness. But...

If you're willing to let the old fellow next door
join us for a drink,
I'll call him across the hedge,
and we'll finish the last of the cups.

We do not know the social standing of Du Fu's neighbor; the appellation 'Old fellow next door' sounds uncomfortably familiar. But we do know it was most improper to indiscriminately mix guests of different social classes. The very ellegance with which Du Fu has treated Cui's 'visit to a recluse' makes the poet's proposal all the more striking...literally, 'if you are willing to drink FACE TO FACE with the old fellow next door,' Previously, Du Fu's gracious tact suggests one kind of relation to Cui; the final couplet suggests a very different, disarmingly familiar relation. By agreeing to Du Fu's tasteful presentation of the 'natural life', Magistrate Cui is compelled to participate ina genuainely natural gesture and the dissolution of the social hierarchy. Beneath the mask of virginity, lusty and gregarious humanity breaks out.

Cui cannot object; he must sit there, waiting for some old commoner to come bounding over the hedge and sit down face to face with him. But Cui must feel, as we do, that somewhere in the poem the virginal deference of his first reception has been lost"

For a Owen's complete comments refer to his; Traditional Chinese Poetry and Poetics, Omen To The World, page 236.

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