Caught In Drizzle At Sword Gate Pass

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Caught In Drizzle At Sword Gate Pass
         Lu You 1125-1210

Traveling clothes, dust caked, wine stained, 
Journeying far, overwhelmed by grief.
In this life what am I?
        only a poet
                straddling a donkey
Entering Sword Gate in a drizzling rain.
Jiànméndǎo Zhōngyù Wēiyǔ
Yī shàng zhēngchén duǒ jiǔ hén,
Yuǎnyóu wú wài bù xiāohún.
Cǐ shēn héshì Shīrén wèi?
Xìyǔ qílǘ rù Jiānmén.
Translator: Dongbo 東波

The Jianmen Pass is the pass protecting Sichuan on the north. A few days prior to writting this poem Lu You probably passed though the 大散關 Dasanguan, Great Enemy Scattering Pass, further south in Shaanxi, another pass redolent with the memory of many battles. Lu You would have preferred, at least in his mind, to be fighting the Jin invaders, but he was not a soldier, only a poet. Little did he know that it would be the Mongols, not the Jin, that would conquer the Southern Song Dynasty.

Composing poems while straddling donkeys was a common recreation in China. there are many poems written on donkeys, although alas, few about donkeys! The late Ming loyalist and early Ching poet monk and painter Bada Shanren even went so far as to give himself the derisive sobriquet 驢 Lu, Donkey.

An intersting question is why di the poet officials ride donkeys not horses? Were horses just in short supply, or was it that donkeys were less demanding and easier to care for?

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