12 Chinese Cat Poems by Lu You

In the general impression, Lu You(陸游) is a famous patriotic Chinese poet of the Southern Song Dynasty, full of melancholy. However, compared to lofty mountains, flowing rivers, in reality, he was a devoted cat lover.

Chinese Cat Poems Written by Lu You

Lu You’s famous patriotic poem titled ‘Stormy Winds on November Fourth(《十一月四日風雨大作》)’ is well-known in China, as it appears in many high school textbooks.

僵臥孤村不自哀,尚思為國戍輪台。
夜闌臥聽風吹雨,鐵馬冰河入夢來。

~《十一月四日風雨大作》陸游

Lying stiff in a solitary village, no self-pity within, Still contemplating guarding the frontier for the nation’s win.

At night’s end, I lie and hear the wind and rain, Iron horse, icy river, into my dreams, they reign.

(Translation by Xing Wu)

The gist is: Lu You lies in bed, worried about national affairs, pondering like this until the night nearly fades away. In a half-dream state, it seems he sees himself donning armor and marching into battle.

However, few people know it’s just a part of the whole poem; there’s also a fuzzy, upper section to it.

風卷江湖雨暗村,四山聲作海濤翻。
溪柴火軟蠻氈暖,我與狸奴不出門。

The darkened sky, the wind sweeping rain across the river’s bend, Mountains echo, their sounds akin to the roaring sea’s blend.

The small fire crackles by the stream’s gentle flow, Wrapped in wool, warmth envelops, a comfort I know.

Neither cat nor I, enticed by the storm’s shout, Choose to stay sheltered, venturing not out.

(Translation by Xing Wu)

The wind’s fury veils the village in rain,

Mountains echo waves in thunderous strain.

By the crackling fire’s dance, warmth gently swells,

Cozied indoors, my cat and I, no urge compels.

(Translation from this tweet)

Outside the house, a fierce wind howls, rain crashing like a mountain’s collapse, yet inside, a warm fire burns. Lu You wraps himself in a blanket, staying with his ‘little cat(狸奴).’

In the past, Chinese people call pet cats ‘狸奴’, and it is unbelievable that Lu You, the famous poet, wrote at least 12 poems for his beloved cats in his life!

Read on to see a full translation of these lovely Chinese cat poems.

II, Xing Wu, have personally translated all these tweets on Twitter. If you find them enjoyable(Like the other translations, e.g. folklore stories in What the Master Would not Discuss & Shanhaijing), I would be sincerely grateful if you could share them, citing this website as the source. Your support is truly appreciated.

《耄耋圖》沈銓 清
《耄耋圖》沈銓 清

Lu You’s Love-hate Relationship with Cat-keeping

Lu You’s initial motive for keeping cats was primarily to eradicate mice. He adored reading and cherished books immensely. (「吾室之內,或棲於櫝,或陳於前,或枕藉於床,俯仰四顧,無非書者。」’Within my room, whether resting on shelves or arranged in front, or used as a pillow on the bed, glancing all around, there’s nothing but books.’)

However, his home was infested with mice that constantly gnawed at his treasured books. He even composed a poem titled ‘Books Defeated by Rats(《鼠敗書》),’ mentioning how his books always bore marks of mice gnawing, causing him great distress. (「檢校案上書,狼藉鼠嚙跡」’Inspecting my books, a mess from rat bites.’)

It was at that moment, a sly smile soon curved Lu You’s lips: ‘With the ability to rear a cat, how could the sly holes remain uncaught?’ He thought it better to keep a cat—let’s see where you mice scurry now.

The effect of eradicating mice was remarkably successful. Not only did it nearly exterminate the household mice, but it also led him to discover the beauty of cats.

He turned this experience into a poem, giving it an exceedingly passionate and lengthy title, namely ‘Rats Frequently Defeat My Writing; Occasionally Gained a Cat; Days of Hunting and Killing Leave None Behind; The Group of Rats Nearly Vanished – A Dedication’.

服役無人自炷香,狸奴乃肯伴禪房。書眠共藉床敷暖,夜坐同聞漏鼓長。
賈勇遂能空鼠穴,策勳何止履胡腸。魚餮雖薄真無愧,不向花間捕蝶忙。

~《鼠屢敗吾書偶得狸奴捕殺無虛日群鼠幾空為賦》陸游

Alone, I tend to the incense, no one in service, yet my loyal cat joins me in the Zen room. On shared blankets, books find rest, as we sit through nights, attuned to the steady beat of the leak’s rhythm.

My cat, brave and skilled, clears mice from their holes, achieving more than mere wandering and driving away adversaries.

Though my offerings of fish and meat are meager, my cat holds no disdain, unlike others who busy themselves chasing butterflies among the flowers.

~《Rats Frequently Defeat My Writing; Occasionally Gained a Cat; Days of Hunting and Killing Leave None Behind; The Group of Rats Nearly Vanished – A Dedication》

Since then, he became obsessed with raising cats, composing dozens of poems dedicated to them, and assigning each one a name.

For instance, there was a cat named 雪兒(Xue’er, Snow):

似虎能緣木,如駒不伏轅。但知空鼠穴,無意為魚餐。

薄荷時時醉,氍毹夜夜溫。前生舊童子,伴我老山村。

~《得貓於近村以雪兒名之戲為作詩》陸游

Like a tiger, adept at climbing trees, Similar to a young horse, refusing the yoke with ease. Only aware of sweeping mouse holes clean, No thought of using my fish for cuisine.

It often revels in the mint bushes’ embrace, Warming my blanket each night with grace. The young scholar from my past life, divine, Specially here to accompany me in my old age, in the mountain village’s line.

~ 《Obtaining a Cat in the Nearby Village, Naming it Snow, Playfully Writing Poetry》

This is written for the cat named ‘粉鼻(Fenbi, Pinky Nose)’:

連夕狸奴磔鼠頻,怒髯噀血護殘囷。
問渠何似朱門裏,日飽魚餐睡錦茵?

~《贈粉鼻》陸游

My cat tirelessly hunts mice throughout the night, its enraged whiskers stained with blood, guarding the mangled bodies of the mice.

It seems to ask me, when will I live like the wealthy, feasting on delicious fish during the day and sleeping on luxurious beds at night?

~《To Pinky Nose》

Here is one for the cat named ‘小於菟(Xiaoyutu, Little Tiger)’:

鹽裹聘狸奴,常看戲座隅。
時時醉薄荷,夜夜占氍毹。
鼠穴功方列,魚餐賞豈無。
仍當立名字,喚作小於菟。

~《贈貓》陸游

A packet of salt wrapped a cat in employ, Often seen playing in my seat’s corner joy. Intoxicated by mint at every glance, Nightly dreaming to claim my cushion’s expanse.

For merit earned, clearing mouse holes profound, Could I miss a fish feast, shrimp abound? As custom deems, a name I’ll assign, Calling it ‘Little Liger,’ a title fine.

~《To My Cat》

《牡丹與貓圖頁》佚名 清
《牡丹與貓圖頁》佚名 清

From the content of the poems, we can also sense the different personalities of the cats: Xue’er was enthusiastic about catching mice, a workaholic who relaxed by sniffing mint leaves; Xiaoyutu had a storied career, while Fenbi was just focused on being lazy and eating well…

Because there was a shortage of cat food, Lu You also wrote a poem to apologize to the cats:

裹鹽迎得小狸奴,盡護山房萬卷書。

慚愧家貧策勳薄,寒無氈坐食無魚。

~《贈貓·其二》陸游

At the cost of wrapped salt, a little servant cat welcomed, Guarding diligently the myriad books in the mountain abode.

Shameful, the poverty at home bestows meager rewards, Cold without a cushion, food lacking fish as it affords.

~《To My Cat II》

Oh, ashamed am I! You, dear cat, have guarded my mountain of books, yet I am too poor to provide you with a warm cushion to sleep on, nor do I have the means to feed you fish snacks. I feel terribly sorry for you.

執鼠無功元不劾,一簞魚飯以時來。
看君終日常安臥,何事紛紛去又回?

~《贈貓·其三》陸游

Failing to catch the mouse, I won’t reproach, A bowl of fish and rice arrives, time does encroach.

I wish to see you calmly at rest all day, Why then, amid bustling tasks, do you stray?

~《To My Cat III》

However, every coin has its two sides. Soon, due to Lu You’s extreme indulgence, the cats completely indulged themselves!

狸奴睡被中,鼠橫若不聞。殘我架上書,禍乃及斯文。

乾鵲下屋簷,鳴噪不待晨。但為得食計,何曾問行人。

惰得暖而安,飢得飽而馴,汝計則善矣,我憂難具陳。

~《二感》陸游

My cat sleeps under the covers, seemingly deaf to the scurrying of mice. The books on my shelf have been destroyed by mice, bringing disaster upon cultural refinement.

Magpies on dry branches perch under the eaves, chattering incessantly before dawn. They’re just after food, oblivious to the feelings of passersby.

Lazy creatures, finding comfort in warmth, and hungry creatures, tamed by a full belly. Your schemes seem cunning, but my worries are beyond words.

~《Feelings II》

甚矣翻盆暴,嗟君睡得成!但思魚饜足,不顧鼠縱橫。

欲騁銜蟬快,先憐上樹輕。朐山在何許?此族最知名。

~《嘲畜貓》陸游

The rain outside is pouring so loudly, and yet you can still sleep! All you care about is eating fish and filling your stomachs, paying no attention to the rats running around.

The fastest running cat breed is called ‘Cicada Hunter(銜蟬)’, while the most relaxed at climbing trees is the ‘Xian Lian(先憐)’. Now, where is the ‘Qushan(朐山)’ breed? This cat breed is the most famous for catching mice.

~《Teasing at the Cats Raised》(Translation by Xing Wu)

All day long, with thunder and rain outside, how could you ignore all the mice, and fall asleep?

Lu You's poem collection, 明刻本《劍南詩稿》
Lu You’s poem collection, 明刻本《劍南詩稿》

But by this time, Lu You had become hopelessly in love with the cat. With just a cute and affectionate look from the cat, Lu You would completely surrender: ‘Ah, whether you catch mice or spill the food bowl, as long as I can cuddle you and keep warm together, I am content, no matter what.’

不見麴生久,惠然相與娛。安能論鬥石,僅可具盤盂。

聽雨濛僧衲,挑燈擁地爐。勿生孤寂念,道伴大狸奴。

~《獨酌罷夜坐》陸游

Long since I’ve missed the sight of brewing ingredients, feeling secluded yet finding solace. No need to debate over weighing stones; simply holding up the vessel suffices.

Draped in monk’s robes, I listen quietly to the rain, lighting a lamp at night, contemplating by the hearth. No need for lonely or desolate thoughts; my companion, a great feline friend, walks alongside my path.

~《Drinking Alone at Night》

Certainly, these cats also accompanied Lu You, witnessing the sights of the Southern Song Dynasty, growing old together, perhaps making the love affair worth every moment:

我老苦寂寥,誰與娛晨暮。
狸奴共茵席,鹿麑隨杖屨。

歲薄食無余,恨使鳥雀去。
安得粟滿囷,作粥饋行路!

~《冬日齋中即事》陸游

I have grown old, life’s hardships make me feel lonely, who will keep me company in the mornings and evenings?

Even if a cat accompanies me on a mat, deer trail along with my walking stick and shoes.

As years thin and food becomes scarce, I regret the departure of birds.

I long to have a full granary, to cook porridge and offer it to passing travelers.

~《Incidents in the Winter Meditation Room》

Bonus: Cat Folklores Recorded by Lu You

 《唐苑嬉春圖卷 局部》朱瞻基(宣宗) 明
《唐苑嬉春圖卷 局部》朱瞻基(宣宗) 明

Lu You, known for his occasional interest in other people’s ‘cat affairs’, also documented an intriguing incident in his work, ‘Notes from the Old Study(《老學庵筆記》)’:

During the Southern Song Dynasty in Hangzhou, a trend among the city’s elite was to rear an exotic breed known as ‘獅貓(lion cats).’ These felines boasted long, fur coats in either white or yellow, admired solely for their striking appearance rather than any skill in catching mice.

Among those indulging in this trend was Lady Chongguo(崇國夫人), granddaughter of Qin Hui(秦檜), who owned one such prized lion cat. However, one day, her treasured pet vanished. Promptly, she commanded the local authorities to recover it within a set timeframe. Despite their efforts, time passed with no success. Consequently, nearby residents were detained, and the guards at her estate faced allegations.

In a frantic search, guards scoured the city, seizing every lion-like cat they could find from residents. Strangely, none matched Lady Chongguo’s missing pet.

Desperate, the guards turned to an elderly veteran who had encountered the distinctive feline before. They produced numerous sketches of the cat, distributing them widely across bustling spots, hoping for a sighting. Despite their exhaustive efforts and citywide searches, the elusive lion cat remained at large.

Ultimately, the matter found resolution through the magistrate’s persistent plea, conveyed through a trusted confidant of Lady Chongguo.

The uproar caused by the disappearance of her beloved feline reflects the extent of Qin Hui’s granddaughter’s fondness for her pets. It was a tale that showcased not only the fervent search for a cherished pet but also the widespread fascination with these remarkable ‘lion cats’ of that era.

Image Version of Translated Cat Poems by Lu You

lu You cat poems "to my cat",
a translation of cat poems by Lu You
lu you cat poems "to pinky nose",
a translation of cat poems by Lu You
lu you cat poems: "obtaining a cat in the nearby village, naming it snow, playfullly writing poetry",
a translation of cat poems by Lu You
lu you cat poems: " Rats Frequently Defeat My Writing; Occasionally Gained a Cat; Days of Hunting and Killing Leave None Behind; The Group of Rats Nearly Vanished - A Dedication",
a translation of cat poems by Lu You

Reference

陆游:中国爱猫人士的标杆

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