Orioles Warble at Noon in Summer
Summer heat brings a kind of romantic pleasure. One day in July 1046, Su Shunqin (1008–1048), a poet of the Song Dynasty (AD 960–1279), wrote the poem “Xiayi” (“A Taste of Summer”) after a nap at noon. It reads: “I feel cool sitting on a bamboo mat in a quiet yard; blooming pomegranate flowers brighten the hall through the curtains. At noon the ground is covered by tree shade; after waking up from a dream, I hear orioles warble.”
A summertime nap at noon was a common form of enjoyment throughout the ages. Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907) poet Liu Zongyuan wrote “Xiazhou Xianzuo” (“A Poem Written in Summer Leisure”) which reads: “The heat in the south was unbearable, so I opened the northern window and slept on a long table.”
In 1044, Su Shunqin was recommended to Fan Zhongyan, prime minister of the Song Dynasty. When Su was asked to give suggestions on addressing the Song Dynasty's long-standing wrongdoings, Su talked about his vision constantly which coincided with Fan Zhongyan's thoughts and ideas. Su was appointed collator of the Academy of Scholarly Worthies. Su Shunqin was grateful to the imperial court and planned many reform measures. However, misfortune was soon cast on him. When Su Shunqin was about to realise his political ambition, Palace Aide to the Censor-in- chief Wang Gongchen and other conservatives opposing political reform dealt a blow to him. In 1045, after the Memorials Office offered sacrifices to the gods, Su Shunqin sold opened memorial envelopes to buy wine for a banquet according to customs. Wang Gongchen falsely accused Su of embezzlement to the emperor to retaliate against Fan Zhongyan and other reformers. Fan Zhongyan pleaded the emperor but failed. Su was removed from office and exiled along with more than ten celebrated scholars.
Su Shunqin left the Song capital of Kaifeng in January 1046, arrived in Suzhou five months later and started another short but meaningful life there.
Before becoming famous, Su Shunqin was known for being bold and unconstrained. His story of reading and drinking at the same time was told by word of mouth with approval.
Su Shunqin's decision to steer clear from political circles and live in seclusion was suitable to him. Suzhou was a city suitable for hermits. While living in seclusion there, Su Shunqin expressed his feelings of the mountains and waters and found a new meaning of life. Such a carefree lifestyle that he had never experienced before allowed him to focus on enjoying his time instead of wasting time and energy on an official career on a daily basis.
“At noon the ground is covered by tree shade; after waking up from a dream, I hear orioles warble occasionally.” These two poetic lines are the crystallisation of what Su Shunqin learned from life. The changing times gave new meanings to them. Today, when reading these two lines, readers can more often than not feel the great poet's love for life and the cool in the heat of summer.