c. 1165 | China

Chirping Insects

Renouncing the distraction of books.

Don’t read books!
Don’t chant poems!
When you read books your eyeballs wither away, leaving the bare sockets.
When you chant poems your heart leaks out slowly with each word.
People say reading books is enjoyable.
People say chanting poems is fun.
But if your lips constantly make a sound like an insect chirping in autumn,
you will only turn into a haggard old man.
And even if you don’t turn into a haggard old man,
it’s annoying for others to have to hear you.
It’s so much better
    to close your eyes, sit in your study,
    lower the curtains, sweep the floor,
    burn incense.
It’s beautiful to listen to the wind,
    listen to the rain,
    take a walk when you feel energetic,
    and when you’re tired go to sleep.

Translated by Jonathan Chaves. © 1975, 1995, 2004 by Jonathan Chaves. Used with permission of White Pine Press.


Yang Wanli

“Don’t Read Books!” Born in 1127, the same year the Southern Song dynasty was established, Wanli is referred to as “the colloquial poet” for his simple diction.