In praise of a poet

Su Dongpo 苏東坡 (1036-1101), one of the greatest Chinese poets, saw fit to seek a jester’s opinion on his poetry.  Su and Liu Yong (fl.c. 1045) were both famous for writing ci poems (lyrics composed for existing tunes patterns), and one day, Su asked how his poems compared to Liu’s. The jester said Liu’s would lose any competition with Su’s which had generals, bronze lutes and iron clappers, while Liu’s just had a load of women singing.  Su clapped his hands – the words of jesters always contain sound judgement!

柳耆卿,蘇長公各以搷詞名,而二家不同,當時士論各有所主。東坡一日問一優人曰:『我詞何如柳學士?』優曰:『學士那比得相公!』坡驚曰:『如何?』優曰:『公詞須用丈二將軍,銅琵琶,鐵綽板,唱相公「大江東去。」柳學士詞 。著十七,十八女郎,唱「楊柳外曉風殘月」。坡為之撫掌。優人之言,便具褒彈。

No bias on Su’s part, then.  See another jester joke poking fun at the poet, and here, making the emperor laugh fooling around with a hat of a type Su Dongpo was known to wear.

Source: Songbai leichao 宋稗類鈔, comp. by Pan Yongyin 潘永因 (fl.c. 1662), ed. by Liu Chuoying 劉卓英 (Beijing: Wenxian Chubanshe, 1985), 2 vols, vol. 2, fol. 5, pp. 428-29

Image credit: Su Dongpo (1920), Tomita Keisen (1879-1936), ink and colour on silk; Honolulu Museum of Art, public domain

Quote - Pan Yongyin - Songbai Leichao

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