There’s No Place Like Home: Returning Home in the Rain

COOL POEMS: Introduction > THE POEMS

Topics: There’s No Place Like Home

Author: Mei Yaochen (1002-1060)

Returning Home in the Rain (1049)

Endless drizzle, almost dark;
the road’s dissolved, mud’s getting deep.
Worry over my attendant, nearly starved;
fear my horse may topple in the mire.
We’ve crossed the pass, I begin to relax;
almost home, crossing the creek.
Such joy seeing children at my knee;
feasting me by the lamp, my wife.

Comments: There are so many myths in Western sources about the Confucian family that it can be instructive to look at how people in China thought about the family in their own terms.

Me Yaochen wrote many poems about family but this one is special. It was deliberately written in an old-fashioned style, somewhat as if an English poet were to write in some old ballad style. The result is that the poem acquires an ingenuous tone, appearing as a product, perhaps, of simpler times.

Another feature of this style is that it lays out events in a strict sequence: A, B; C, D; E, F; and so on. This structure is emphasized in the Chinese by the insertion of a sound—xi (pronounced like “see”)—between the opening and ending parts of each line. The first line, then, would read something like: “Endless drizzle xi, almost dark.” Mei takes advantage of this rhythm by chronicling the stages of his emotion/qing in graded steps from high anxiety to supreme comfort.

In physical terms, which is to say in terms of the scene/jing, the poem progresses from heavy rain and mud to the warm, tidy interior of the poet’s home. Thus this is a poem about the ideal, middle-class family—husband, wife, kids—as conceived in early modern China. 

The first two lines describe the high point of anxiety: the rain is heavy, the mud is getting deeper and it’s almost dark. In an age without LED flashlights, Mei can’t be certain if he’ll make it home at all. Always sympathetic to others, Mei worries over his attendant, but he also worries over his horse, the latter being critical for his own personal safety. Eventually he’s crossed the pass and is fairly certain he can find his way back. He sees the creek and knows he’s made it.

The next two lines describe Mei’s ideal of ultimate comfort: smiling children at his knee and, most of all, a loving wife with a good Chinese meal in the warm light of the kitchen lamp.

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