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Preface to Inferior Creek Poetry

Liu, Zong-Yuan (773-805 CE)

   There is a creek south of the Guan-shui River. The creek flows eastward into the Xiao-shui River. Some people say, "The creek is called Ran Creek because Ran's family live there." Others say, "The creek is called Dye Creek 1 because its water can be used as dye." I was demoted to live near the Xiao-shui River because I was so stupid that I could not get along with the authorities. I love this creek. Going along the creek for two or three miles, I found a great location and built my house there. In ancient times, there was a place called "The Valley of Fools". Now my home is on the creek. My neighbors still argue about the creek's name. Based on this precedent, I should name it Inferior Creek.

   On Inferior Creek, I bought a small hill and called it Inferior Hill. Sixty feet to the northeast of the hill, I found a spring, bought it, and called it Inferior Spring. The spring comes up from six holes in the ground. The six streams flow together to form one big winding stream moving southward. We call it Inferior Ditch. After blocking the narrow section of the ditch and digging a pool alongside, I linked the creek to the pool. The pool was named Inferior Pool. To the south of the house, there is Inferior Gazebo. In the pool, there is Inferior Island. Nice trees as well as wonderful rocks scattered alternatively, and created a unique feature in the landscape. They were all humiliated by being named Inferior because of me.

   Wise people usually love water. Why would I alone like to give this creek a bad name? Because its elevation is so low that we cannot use the water for irrigation. The water runs steep, fast and there are many huge stones underwater, so the big ships cannot come into it. Furthermore, the creek is too narrow, too shallow, and too far from a town. The patron god could not use the creek to create clouds and rainstorms, so he finally abandoned it. Since the creek is useless just like me, it is justifiable to call it Inferior Creek.

   Wu-zi Ning became foolish while the government was corrupt. He was a wise man who knew how to protect himself. Hui Yan lived in his high ideas like an idiot. He is a clever man who looks like a fool. They are not really foolish. I was born in an uncorrupted era, but I contradicted reason and messed things up. No fool can be worse than I. Consequently, they cannot compete with me in naming this creek. Only I could enjoy the privilege to call it Inferior Creek.

   Although the creek is of no use to the world, its water is completely clear. Thus it may reflect all things as they are. When its waves hit the stones, the sound is metallic. The sound would make fools smile, wander around, and hate to leave. Though I do not fit in this world, I console myself by writing essays. This creek washes everything clean and reflects everything as it is. After praising the creek in my foolish words, I felt that the creek and I approached each other and became one. It seems that I detached myself from everything in the universe and entered a silent and invisible world. No one could see, hear, or understand me. I felt very lonely, so I wrote eight foolish poems and inscribed them on a rock.


1 The Chinese character for "dye" is pronounced "ran".