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A Tea Poem by Su Shi (Su Dongpo): Simmering Tea with Fresh River Water

A Tea Poem by Su Shi (Su Dongpo): Simmering Tea with Fresh River Water
June 11, 2017 No comments

There were plenty of tea poems that appeared during the Tang and the Song Dynasty in China. As those dynasties are considered relatively peaceful, tea culture flourished and brewing tea became more and more a leisure activity.

Su Shi (1037-1101), also know as Su Tungpo, was a Chinese writer, poet, painter, calligrapher and statesman of the Song. As a tea enthusiast, he isn't as visible as other tea poets, as he's been more famous for his poems on the Battle of Red Cliff during the Three Kingdoms. Never, the less he showed his love for tea in many of his works. In this post, we introduce you one of his tea poems today. We hope you enjoy it!

Simmering Tea with Fresh River Water

(Alternative title: Dipping water from the river and simmering tea)

Fresh river water should be boiled over open flames;

I lean over the fishing rock, dip the deep clear river current;

Store the reflection of the large Spring moon, return it to the jar;

Divide the night stream with a little dipper, drained into the kettle.

White frothy water, simmering, whirls bits of tea;

Pour and hear the sound like wind through the pines.

Three bowls will not necessarily penetrate my withered entrails;

I sit and hear, from the remote town, the striking of the hour.

Notes:

  • The second last sentence has resulted in quite some controversy. This sentence challenges another poem known as 7 cups of tea by Lu Tung. In Lu Tung's poem there's this sentence: "The third bowl penetrates my withered entrails". Yet as you can read in the above poem Su Shi believes that 3 bowls aren't enough. Historians have lots of theories on the meaning of Su Shi's '3 bowls' sentence. It could be that he just wanted to emphasise the need to bowl tea (instead of steeping) to get a cup that can effectively clear the mind.

Here's the original in Chinese:


汲江煎茶--苏轼

活水还须活火烹,自临钓石取深清。

大瓢贮月归春瓮,小杓分江入夜瓶。

雪乳已翻煎处脚,松风忽作泻时声。

枯肠未易禁三碗,坐听荒城长短更。


For Mandarin-Chinese learners we also include the pin yin pronunciation of the above Chinese characters.


Jí jiāng jiānchá--sūshì

huóshuǐ hái xū huó huǒ pēng, zì lín diào shí qǔ shēn qīng.

Dà piáo zhù yuè guī chūn wèng, xiǎo biāo fēn jiāng rùyè píng.

Xuě rǔ yǐ fān jiān chù jiǎo, sōng fēng hū zuò xiè shí shēng.

Kū cháng wèi yì jìn sān wǎn, zuò tīng huāngchéng chángduǎn gèng.


Did you like the poem? Or do you have any questions about it? Feel free to leave a comment below. Translating this poem was quite difficult, so if you know a better translation for certain sentences, please let us know!