Sleeping on Horseback
by Po Chu-I
We had ridden long and were still far from the inn;
My eyes grew dim; for a moment I fell asleep.
Under my right arm the whip still dangled;
In my left hand the reins for an instant slackened.
Suddenly I woke and turned to question my groom.
“We have gone a hundred paces since you fell asleep.”
Body and spirit for a while had changed place;
Swift and slow had turned to their contraries.
For these few steps that my horse had carried me
Had taken in my dream countless aeons of time!
True indeed is that saying of Wise Men
“A hundred years are but a moment of sleep.”
Prague is a city of statues. Statues are everywhere, on buildings, street corners, squares, balconies, hilltops, on the hideous TV tower—and wildly divergent in style and tone, from classical to art noveau, from inspiring to plain frightening. The statues of Prague celebrate literary figures on par with political ones.
This statue of Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek depicts Hasek as a rider atop a horse, although he never rode one. The horse is shaped like a pub table, the horse’s legs like pub fixtures, all very fitting for a writer known for his drinking habits. Hasek wrote The Good Soldier (said to have inspired Joseph Heller’s Catch-22) a novel described as funny and biting. He also wrote The Drunkard’s Guide to Old Prague.
I do enjoy the Czech subversive sense of humor.
A different horse statue, one of Czech national hero Jan Zizka, is visible from the Hasek square. Probably not a coincidence.
Po Chu I (772-846) was born in the Honan province of China. A poet and government official, he served as tax collector, librarian, governor and other positions under eight or nine emperors. Through his government work he became interested in the oppression of ordinary people by the powerful, in particular by the eunuchs at court. He was exiled twice. He is also known as Bai Juyi.
In addition to the lovely “Sleeping on Horseback,” Po Chu-I wrote a poem called “Drunk Again.” Seems appropriate to include it here:
by Po Chu-I
Last year, when I lay sick,
I’d never touch a drop again
As long as I should live.
But who could know
What this year’s spring would bring ?
And here I am,
Coming home from old Liu’s house
As drunk as I can be!