Happy All His Days

Happy All His Days

This week’s poem is “On the Birth of a Son” by Su Tung-Po: not so much a celebration of a new child as an indictment of ministerial incompetence.

Then he’ll be happy all his days
And grow into a cabinet minister.

Su Tung-Po (1037—1101)

Poem 253. On the Birth of a Son

Families when a child is born
Hope it will turn out intelligent.
I, through intelligence
Having wrecked my whole life,
Only hope that the baby will prove
Ignorant and stupid.
Then he’ll be happy all his days
And grow into a cabinet minister.

This is a short satirical poem written by the classical Chinese poet Su Tung-Po (also named Su Shi). He was much involved in the political landscape of Song dynasty China and experienced a number of reversals throughout his career. This poem is perhaps one factor in his mercurial fortunes, and it’s as biting today as it was nearly 1,000 years ago, with the writer lamenting that his intelligence has brought him to ruin, while the ignorant and stupid are happily engaged as cabinet ministers.

He was subjected to a series of trials for treason and lèse majesté known as the Crow Terrace Poetry Trial and was convicted and exiled—this outcome significantly hindered the cause of free speech during the Song Dynasty’s remaining years.

I like this poem because it pokes fun at political figures that are often in need of satire, because it seems to be as applicable today as it was when Su Tung-Po wrote it, and because it is often the case that the less meritorious rise above those who are more effective but perhaps less charismatic.


  • Read about the Crow Terrace Poetry Trial at Wikipedia.