Su Tung P'o is a figure who moves me deeply. In a few more years he'll be a thousand years old. A great Chinese poet - he was a designer of gardens in Imperial China. Now the great thing about Su Tung P'o is he not only wrote these pastoral poems and loved to design gardens, but he wrote satires. That's pretty rare that you get that tension of potentialities in one figure and here's one of the poems from among his satirical offerings.

After Su Tung P’o


On the birth of a son

When a child is born the parents pray
it will be healthy and intelligent. But as for me –

I tell you vigor and intelligence have wrecked my life.
I pray this baby we are seeing

walloped, wiped and winningly anointed
turns out dumb as oakum, weak as wickerwork,

and sinister. In time
he’ll crown a tranquil life by being

appointed a cabinet minister.

from Eyeshot (Wesleyan University Press, 2003), © Heather McHugh 2003, used by permission of the author and the publisher. Poetry Foundation recording made on 21 September 2007, New York

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