Grandpa and His Poem

The owners of Shanghai Walled City homes often used poetry to decorate their entrances. That is different from the former foreign concessions, where the portals usually carry the name of the compound. A walk in the old town can thus easily become a Chinese poetry trip. Take the three characters on the back entrance of 96 Daochuan Long (倒川弄96号) for example:

Artist: Toeniis. Grandpa and the poem he forgot. 96 Daochuan Long.
Artist: Toeniis. Grandpa and the poem he forgot. 96 Daochuan Long.

Drawing Shanghai found the most elegant house of the street inhabited by two elderly people. Rest of the eight families that used to live here have already been relocated. Grandpa has become ever more welcoming, each time we visit him again. He told us that the archaic typeface used to write the three characters above his back portal is tricky and the rightmost character is not 夹 (' jiā' meaning 'in-between'), although it looks like it. A Tongji professor had once told him, what it actually meant, but his memory was playing hide and seek with him now. 

Left on our own, we found out that the line may come from the tail of a poem written by Song Era poet Lù Yóu (1125–1209).


Lù Yóu (陆游 1125-1210) was a known poet in the Southern Song era, a native of Shānyīn (山阴, now Shaoxing in East China's Zhejiang province). He lived in the time when Northern China was invaded by the nomadic Jurchens. From an early age, the poet was influenced by patriotism and took on a military career to liberate his fatherland from invaders. After his military career, Lù retired to Shānyīn. He has left us more than 9,000 poems.

His poem here could be interpreted this way:

Late Spring.
Home again, spring, Qingming,
    Laid-back days in the garden, rain.
There is a tide in the affairs of the world,
    Time and tide wait for no man.
Enjoy the taste of home,
    Soup, water lily, soy, salt, fish on pan
A glass of wine to enjoy,
    In this straw shack, also a home of mine

One way of understanding the idea of late spring (暮春) is as a reference to the poet having retired from military service. He probably felt grief that he stopped serving his country.
The first line could describe East China's especially rainy (社雨) Qingming season of no fires (禁火). The poet's hometown Shānyīn (山阴) could also be interpreted as a cosy and safe place in the shadow (阴 yīn) of a mountain (山 shān). The poet can finally enjoy time (终可喜)in his other home (亦吾庐 yì wú lú ) in the shadow of a mountain.
The food he mentions is specific to that area. Take the water lily as an example. This fiod makes him feel cozy and back at home.
茅屋 máo wū (thatched cottage) is a way of saying 'my modest home' but can also mean 'my humble self'. Already Du Fu (杜甫 712-770), a poet from Tang era, related how his thatched hut was broken by autumn his famous poem 茅屋为秋风所破歌 (Máowū wèi qiūfēng suǒ pò gē).

Katya Knyazyeva writes in her book, that the house on Daochuan Lane was in reality was a second abode of the man who built it — Xu Songquan. Thus the poetic headline. You can read more about the house in Katya's splendid book.

Thanks to Anna Im and Lily Ng from Drawing Shanghai for their help in understanding this three-character path.


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