Lament for Five White Cat (after Mei Yao-ch’en)


Lament for Five White Cat (after Mei Yao-ch’en)

Five White cat always made sure
no rats gnawed my books,
but this morning Five White died.

On the river I offered up rice and fish,
and buried you in its lazy currents,
chanting my lament. I could never neglect you.

One time you caught a rat
and carried it squealing around the yard
to frighten all the other rats
and keep my cottage clear of them.

We’ve shared space aboard this boat,
and although the food is meager
it’s free of rat piss and droppings
because you were so diligent,
more so than any chicken or pig.

Some people speak highly of horses,
saying nothing compares to them or donkeys.
But we’re done with that discussion!

My tears prove it so.

The transliteration from

Self have 5 white cat
Rat not invade my books
Today morning 5 white die
Sacrifice with rice and fish
See off it at middle river
Incantation you not you neglect
Before you bite one rat
Hold in mouth cry around yard remove
Want cause crowd rat frightened
Thought will clear my cottage
From board boat come
Boat in together room live
Dry grain although its thin
Evade eat drip steal from
This real you have industriousness
Have industriousness surpass chicken pig
Ordinary person stress spur horse drive
Say not like horse donkey
Already finish not again discuss
For you somewhat cry

A Song Dynasty poet, Mei Yao-ch’en (or Mei Yaochen) died in 1060. His great poems live on.

This one is for Jeff Schwaner, whose Mei Yao-ch’en sequence has entertained, inspired and enlightened me. You can find the sequence here:


38 thoughts on “Lament for Five White Cat (after Mei Yao-ch’en)

  1. Great rendering of Mei’s poem, Robert! So much is in those last lines, taking on his grief for his old companion, that the expression of it alone is evidence enough that the value of love and loyalty cannot be weighed or measured by pounds or deeds.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Jeff. Your comment means the world to me. I admit to fretting over the last lines. Some of my earlier versions leaned too heavily on overt emotion. I thought it best, for my taste at least, to temper it a bit.


  2. This is beautiful. I like the way it was written, and I’m sorry the cat died. So sad! I didn’t know whether to like it or not at first because it was about your beloved cat dying. It was beautifully written, though. The line “it’s free of rat piss and droppings” was my favourite line.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello – I enjoy reading your translations. I suspect you’re familiar with Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger with an afterword by Octavio Paz. It focuses on 19 different translations of a 4 line poem by Wang Wei often referred to as Deer Park. I ran into it about twenty years ago when I was first getting acquainted with the classics of Chinese poetry. It really helped me get a sense of Chinese poetry in pretranslated & in translated form. I can see why the ending of your translation was tough.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful words and I too love the juxtaposition with the transliteration. Enjoying your gift, Robert! Also, I want to thank you for stopping by to like my blog post on Thanksgiving memories. Hope to see you around here again. Following 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.