Wandering in my little garden
With a cup of wine, listening to a new song
I sit in the same pavilion under the same weather of last year.
The sun sets in the west, when will it return?
There’s nothing to be done about the fallen flowers.
Swallows, like old friends, are coming back,
Let me wander by the fragrant path of my little garden.
– Yan Shu 晏殊 [991-1055]
Premier Yan Shu of the Northern Song Dynasty was a brilliant scholar and poet, an efficient administrator and a respected statesman.
As prime minister, he must have supervised or handled almost every matter of importance related to the government, the economy, and the general conditions of the country.
Ever practical, resourceful and intelligent, he recognised, however, that not every problem could be solved, whether on a personal or national level, and that eventually, things fall apart, like flowers that must fade and die when their bloom is gone.
In the poem above, he describes himself, not as the busy man about town, but someone who sits in his pavilion, sipping wine, listening to music, and enjoying the fine weather, just like a year ago.
And when you ask him about affairs at court, all he could reply is, “When the flowers fall, there's nothing you can do about it. So, let’s just watch the swallows, our old friends, coming back.”
Yan Shu is content to let things be, and to spend the day strolling in his fragrant little garden.
Many of his lyrical poems reflect this sense of contentment. Here’s another example (but with just a hint of regret):
Clear, peaceful music
This red note paper with tiny words
Expresses the even tenor of my life.
Geese in the clouds, fish in the water
But who can carry off my disappointments?
As the sun dips, I lie alone in the west chamber
The window curtains frame the distant mountains
But where is the face of my beloved?
Only the rippling water flowing east, as before
Note: Picture above of Yan Shu in his garden is from one of the set of stamps issued by China Post in 2012, celebrating Song Dynasty lyrics on flowers in the spring.