January 8, 2012

Cocktail Talk: A Case of Two Cities

In an earlier Cocktail Talk post, I had a quote from Qiu Xiaolong’s book Death of a Red Heroine (which I highly recommended then and still do now), and talked a bit about the author and his main character in the series, Shanghai poet and Chief Inspector Chen (though Chen’s second-in-command Detective Yu gets a lot of deserved face time on the page, too, with chapters often switching off with the two as alternating protagonists). So, for more background, go read that post. Cause here I just want to get straight into this quote, which is from a book in the series called A Case of Two Cities, which takes place not only in late 20th century Shanghai but also Los Angeles and St. Louis. This quote is actually Chen remembering “a short poem by Wang Han, an eighth-century Tang dynasty poet,” and would have made a dandy addition to In Their Cups: An Anthology of Poems About Drinking Places, Drinkers, and Drinks had I known of it.

Oh the mellow wine shimmering
in the luminous stone cup!
I am going to drink
on the horse
when the army Pipa starts
urging me to charge out.

Oh, do not laugh
if I fall dead
drink in the battlefield.
How many soldiers
have really come back home
since time immemorial?

–Wang Han, quoted in Qiu Xiaolong’s A Case of Two Cities

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