问刘十九 (白居易)

Title: Invitation to Big Liu
Author: Bai JuYi
Poetic Form: júejù 绝句

1. (绿 + ) + ( + + )
    (green + ants) + (new + unfiltered + wine)
    gloss: The new wine is covered in green
     bubbles that resemble ants

2. ( + ) + ( + ) +
    (red + clay) + (small + fire) + stove
    gloss: A small fire burns in the red, clay stove

3. ( + + ) + +
    (night + come + sky) + about to + snow
    gloss: The night sky looks like it might snow

4. + + ( + ) +
    can + drink + (one + glass) + or not?
    gloss: Can you come drink a glass?


Invitation to Big Liu
translation by Jessica Alexander ©

Green ants, the new booze;
Red clay little hearth glows;
Night-come sky threatens snow.
Let's drink one together, eh?


As  suggested in its title, this poem of Bai JuYi’s is an invitation to an old friend who is nineteen years his senior.  The poem is a layering of imagery: clear unfiltered wine with its little green bubbles waiting to be drunk (line 1), the warmth and glow of a fire that reflects off the wine (line 2), the night sky that portends coming snow (line 3). We move from central (the wine) and out to the exterior (coming snow), all of which are good reasons to spend an evening with an old friend.  The first two lines are especially illustrative (little ants, red and green colors...) and serve to construct a warm, inviting atmosphere that holds the glow of intoxication before the wine is even drunk.  The first three lines of the poem set the stage and the final line opens the curtain onto the poet’s real motivation: his invitation to a friend.  The invitation is couched in the simplest terms, making it seem even more heartfelt.  In addition to the material reasons Liu might want to come drink, Bai JuYi’s feelings of friendship are potentially an even stronger draw.

Lines 2 and 4 rhyme.

reference 1/reference 2

Other Translations