Early Winter

By Lu You (Song Dynasty)

Rainy days last from the Double Ninth Festival,

Before the Minor Snow, it has been chilly.

Gathering firewood with my hair combed in the shape of pestle,

I sell my vegetable on the crude boat.

Thin porridge is the only food for the whole family,

The felt on the bed is timeworn.

Living on one bite,

Why do I care about leaving behind a good reputation?

About the poet:

Lu You (1125-1210), or Wuguan, or Fangweng, was born in Shanyi of Yuezhou (present day Shaoxing in Zhejiang province), and was a great poet in the southern Song Dynasty. He was fond of learning when he was young, and could write poems when he was only twelve years old. He married his cousin Tang Wan at twenty, but had to divorce because Lu’s mother didn’t like her daughter-in-law and blamed Tang for not giving birth to a child. Lu mourned the ending of the marriage all his life.

In 1153, he took the civil service examination. He placed first in the Lin’an region. But this triumph brought him trouble. Qin Sun, the grandson of the powerful Qin Hui (a notorious aristocratic traitor in the Song Dynasty), had also taken the exam. Lu's win threatened Qin Sun's position, as Lu was now likely to take first place in the next year's national examination. In fact, not only Lu, but all the potential winners of the next year's nationwide competition were excluded, along with even some of the examination officers. It was not until after Qin Hui's death that Lu started his official career in government. Because he avidly insisted on fighting against the Jin Dynasty and did not follow the mainstream official lethargy on the subject, he was dismissed from his job. In 1172, he was hired to do strategic planning in the military. Military life opened his eyes and mind. He hoped to fulfill his aspiration of bringing a divided China back together. He wrote many unrestrained poems to express his passionate patriotism. But the Song Dynasty was by now corrupt and indolent. Most officers just wanted to make a nice living. Lu had no opportunity to deploy his talent. Entering a public career by virtue of his father's services, he fell into disfavor with Ch'in Kuei but after the latter's death he received an appointment, and in 1163 the Emperor Hsiao Tsung made him a Compiler for the Privy Council and conferred upon him the honorary degree of chin shih. He was unsuccessful in his official career. After several promotions and demotions, Lu retired in 1190 to live in seclusion in his hometown Shaoxing, then a rural area. He died at age 86.

Lu wrote about eleven thousand poems, in both the shi and ci forms, plus a number of prose works. In his poetry he continues to articulate the beliefs which cost him his official career, calling for reconquest of the north. Some described daily life in a fresh style. His poetry often contained negative emotions.