Fun with Tang Dynasty Poetry: "When I Was Wealthy"

Wen Sige

PureInsight | January 16, 2006


When I Was Wealthy
By Wang Fanzhi

When I was wealthy, my wife and children regarded me as a good person.
After I removed my robe, they would fold it up for me without asking.
When I left home on business trips, they would see me off.
When I brought my earnings home, they greeted me with big smiles.
They hovered over me like white doves and flattered me with praise like parrots.
But when I temporarily fell into poverty, they began to wear long faces around me.
A man may sometimes suffer from poverty, but he might be blessed with wealth later.
Karmic retribution awaits those who value money and abandon humanity!

"When I Was Wealthy" in Chinese



About Wang Fanzhi (王梵志)

Wang Fanzhi (? – 670 A.D.) was a Buddhist monk and a colloquial poet in the Tang Dynasty. He used very simple, common language and his poems were very similar to Buddhist poems. With the exception of several poems kept in other historical records, most of his poems have been lost.

About the Poem:

This is a poem condemning materialism, which the poet portrayed vividly with simple language. The ancient Chinese people regarded white doves as a type of bird that is attracted by wealth and despises poverty and regarded parrots as a symbol for a talkative person who kisses up to people to get what s/he wants.

The Author's Interpretation:

Wang Fanzhi's poems were widely spread at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty. However, some old-school littérateurs scorned its simple, colloquial language and regarded him as a "country bumpkin." As a result, his poems became extinct later. A good portion of his preserved poems preached morality and condemned viciousness. Some of them are valuable works of art for they read like satires mocking the lack of humanity in the society. This poem is one of them.

This poem is written as a "First Person" narrative. Its language is very simple and nothing out of the ordinary, but it reveals the poet's sharp perception of the world in its details and in his precise and accurate portrait. As a result, it feels very true to life. As readers, we can almost picture the characters' facial expressions in our heads. The psychology behind common things in life was revealed.

Kissing up to the rich, despising the poor, coveting self-interest and abandoning humanity are very common topics throughout human history. A lot of eastern and western literary figures throughout history have repeatedly revealed this human folly. However, with the accelerating moral decline, today's people might actually regard the despicable phenomena described in the poem as fairly normal and even acceptable. In fact, today's people regard a lot of shameful thoughts and behaviors as normal.

On the other hand, throughout history the world has never lacked people who follow morality, loyalty and integrity. When they read this poem, I am sure they will be touched and they will see the similarity between the past and the present times. Likely they will remind the world's people and themselves not to repeat the same folly.

Translated from:

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