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It is not easy to survive nowadays

February 1, 2014

By Xu Zhimo


The fragrant osmanthus is a potent Chinese cultural symbol. Osmanthus wine and flavoured tea are drunk on special occasions, plucking osmanthus in the toad palace means dying, breaking the osmanthus twig and mounting the dragon is a euphemism for sex, and Osmanthus flowers blooming everywhere in August one of the Red Army’s most popular revolutionary songs.

In this poem Xu uses a failed osmanthus season as metaphor for his own outsider status.

It is not easy to survive nowadays

Yesterday I went to the Yanxia Mountains, visiting osmanthus flowers in a downpour;
The Southern Peaks were invisible in the mist.
In front of a thatched cottage.
I stopped to ask a country girl
Whether this year’s osmanthus flowers at Wongjiashan were as fragrant as last year’s.

The country girl looked me up and down,
as if looking at a soaked bird,
I supposed she must be feeling queer –
Walking along in the torrential rain
For no reason, asking whether this year’s osmanthus is aromatic or not.

“My guest, you are unlucky. You have come too late and too early.
This is the famous Manjianong Village,
Normally the aroma would be everywhere by now.
In the past few days frequent rain and wind have made a mess,
Nearly all the osmanthus flowers have wilted.”

As expected, even a forest of osmanthus could not bring me cheer;
Only withered flower buds remained.
Dreary to look at. Alas, unexpected calamity.
Why is there languishment everywhere?
It is not easy to survive nowadays. It is not easy to survive nowadays!

Xu Zhimo

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