Writers, Ancient and Modern

While collecting ancient Chinese poems to include in my YA novel, Little Paradise, I came across this one by the famous poet, Bo Zhu Yi  (722-846). Reading it made me realise that those writers who penned their works before the invention of the printing press, before publishers came into being, before the spread of literacy, must have been truly dedicated and passionate about their art.

The poem is translated by Arthur Waley


I break up cypress and make a book-box;
The box well-made, – and the cypress-wood tough.
In it shall be kept what author’s works?
The inscription says Bo Lo-T’ien.
All my life has been spent writing books,
From when I was young till now that I am old.
First and last, – seventy whole volumes;
Big and little, – three thousand themes. (1)
Well I know in the end they’ll be scattered and lost;
But I cannot bear to see them thrown away.
With my own hand I open and shut the locks,
And put it carefully in front of the book-curtain.
I am like Teng Pai-tao; (2)
But today there is not any Wang Ts’an. (3)
All I can do is to divide them among my daughters
To be left by them to give to my grandchildren.

1.    ie separate poems, essays, etc.
2.    Who was obliged to abandon his only child on the roadside.
3.    Who rescued a foundling.

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