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蘇軾《豆粥》 “Bean Congee” by Su Shi

In contrast to last week’s poem, Su Shi’s praise for congee is expressed in a more passionate and learned manner. The use of irregular lines also helps manifest the flow of the poet’s enthusiasm. As so often in Su Shi’s writing, historical and literary references are woven into his poem, dotted with puns relating to his philosophy of life (e.g. the “true taste in the human realm” in line 12). A closer look into his allusions reveals how freely he has merged elements from previous literature, but he has integrated them into his own words in such a seamless way that the reader can only be left with amazement at his literary prowess.

As a gourmet, he was a most lovely and amiable person who spared no effort to enjoy and celebrate good food. Lines 13-14, the most unique metaphor for a good bowl of hot congee I’ve ever read, are both beautiful and amusing. If these two lines are taken out of context, they can easily be mistaken for a description of a scene that is often depicted in landscape paintings. But we shouldn’t forget Su Shi was also a talented painter. It’s really no wonder that in his eyes sporadic beans emerging from congee looked just like a few thatched roofs barely visible through morning mist.

NB: As my translation and notes are presented in images again this time, the links in my notes will be listed again at the end of this blog.



*From Su Shi shiji 蘇軾詩集 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1982), 1271-1272.

Links in the article:

The records of Liu Xiu and congee in the Hou Hanshu: https://ctext.org/hou-han-shu/feng-cen-jia-lie-zhuan.

Shi Chong’s fancy bathroom serviced by beauties: https://www.rachelleslab.com/post/let-s-talk-about-toilets.

Shi Chong’s secrete recipes: https://ctext.org/shi-shuo-xin-yu/tai-chi.

(Read from right to left, so the rightmost one is the beginning of the poem)

Su Shi's "Douzhou" 豆粥 (Bean Congee), calligraphy by Tan Yankai 譚延闓 (1880-1930)

Tan Yankai's inscription at the end is very interesting as he noted that Su Shi might have misremembered (wuji 誤記) his allusion about Liu Xiu. The Hou Hanshu recorded that Feng Yi presented cooked wheat near the Hutuo River and bean congee near Wulouting 蕪亭. However, Wulouting was located in Raoyang by the Hutuo River, so one might also say that Su Shi did not "misremember" his allusion but only, based on a geographical understanding, chose not to stick to his source verbatim.

 

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