And now for a Dynasty that’s Completely Different: 定風波 – Lyrics to ‘Calming the Wind and Waves’

Right, I’ve had it for now with the rain in London. It is just, not, stopping. Of course that’s more a feature than a bug where London is concerned; but I thought I’d exploit this little heaven-sent inspiration and translate something with some rain in it.

Sushi is a Japanese staple, but Su Shi 蘇軾 su1 shi4 (1037 – 1101), or Su Dongpo 蘇東坡 su1 dong1 po1 (literally meaning Su East-slope, as mentioned in the post on names) – was a Renaissance man long before there was the Renaissance. (So not unlike sushi in terms of quality and variety, then.) As a poet he was good at writing beautiful lines; but he was excellent at writing rhythmic sentences too, in the form of prose-poems called ‘Odes’ (賦, fu4). He was a master of writing the words themselves beautifully, as an exemplary calligrapher.

And because this is China and everyone has to have a proper job, his was as an important official within the Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127) government – a job that itself provided plenty of inspiration, if partly by forcing him to travel huge distances. As a participant in court struggles, he was banished twice to the south of China, which was a good thing for the south – while at the great city of Hangzhou (杭州, hang2 zhou1) on his first demotion to a regional post, he built a causeway across the scenic West Lake, which to this day is called the ‘Su causeway’ (蘇堤, su1 di1).

Did such talent run in the family? Arguably, yeah – his father Su Xun 蘇洵 su1 xun2, and his younger brother Su Zhe 蘇轍 su1 zhe2 were both scholars and officials in their own right, and the three of them are called the ‘Three Su’s’. And here you can note a generational quirk in their names – while both Su Shi and Su Zhe have one-character given names, their names both contain the ‘carriage’ radical 車, which suffices to show they are of the same generation. And while 轍 means ‘rut’, 軾 means ‘handrail’ – their father was trying hard to find good words with that radical, okay?! You try to name your kids with car related words. Wheel… Fuel Injector…

While the Tang Dynasty was the pinnacle of the ‘Poem’, or 詩 shi1, the Song Dynasty saw the domination of a slightly looser form of poetry, the ‘Lyrics’, or 詞 ci2. Lyrics, as a rule, do not often have unique titles; instead they have what is called a 詞牌, ci2 pai2, which translates loosely to ‘lyrical arrangement’ – a certain arrangement of lines with different lengths, so that all lyrics of the same arrangement can be sung to the same tune. They must have an interesting remix/cover/sampling industry in those days.

And so, ‘Calming the Wind and Waves’, ft. Su East-Slope. This poem, written during his first exile to Huangzhou 黃州 huang2 zhou1 (in modern day Hubei, China), says something about the man’s stoicism and the literary spirit that sustained him through adversity.



On the seventh day of the third month, we ran into a rainstorm on the Shahu way. None of us had umbrellas, and everyone felt pathetic, except for me. At length the storm lifted, and so I wrote these lyrics.



Listen not to the raindrops’ tap on leaves throughout the woods;


Instead let’s sing and holler while sojourning leisurely.


Bamboo staff and straw shoes make much lighter way than hooves. Who should fear?


With a straw hat and coat, I could stand rain-battered all my life.


The spring breeze in its crispness lifts the liquor from my mind. This slight chilliness!


Yet at the peak I’m welcomed by the slanting light of dawn.


Looking back at where the storm had howled and blown and raged, I walk back there-


And now there’s neither wind, nor rain, nor warmth, nor sunny day.


One thought on “And now for a Dynasty that’s Completely Different: 定風波 – Lyrics to ‘Calming the Wind and Waves’

  1. Pingback: Vacant Mountain 空山 | An Explanation of ‘Lyrics to the form of _______’, along with three translations of 忆江南 ‘Remembering the South’

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