Letter from a Mandarin of the Sung Dynasty        

 
The marble boats have capsized

On the Lake of Imperial Rectitude.

Examinations for the Celestial Service

Have been postponed.

In the Spice Market the scents are bitter.

The porcelain makers do not work in colour.

Their wares are white,

Undecorated, more fragile.

I have heard of no poems.

The painted fans you ask about

Are not seen.

Children refuse to study the Sages.

Old men are laughed at in the Street of Abundance

While waiting for the rice ration,

Which is now two bowlfuls a week.

Lanterns have been blown down

On the heads of ambassadors.

‘Tribute-bearing ambassadors’, they are called;

But they have the look of merchants

And are dressed in a reprehensible style.

On the Western Border there are victories.

Banners are flown.

The fire-works are of appropriate brilliance.

But certain provinces are no longer named.

Generals come at night

To the Secretariat For Concord With Inferior Peoples,

Snow on their furs.

Afterwards the faces of high personages alter.

Palanquins are in readiness.

I have been told of secret shipments to the South

Of silk-scrolls.

In the Jade Palace there are likely to be changes.

But for how long, I wonder, must we live

Without poetry,

Without painting?

The bray of trumpets scatters the pigeons

From the garden, as I write.

Perhaps it is another victory.

You are fortunate, during this Era of Contentment,

To have a post in the South.