A Little Incident (story in verse)

A Little Incident

(A Musea version of the Lu Hsun short story in poem form)

Six years have gone by as so many winks of an eye
Since I came to the capital from my provincial village.
During that time there have many times occurred
Those celebrated events known as “Affairs of State,”
A great number of which I was privy to.
Yet my heart seems not to be affected by them
And recollecting them only increases my ill temper
And causes me to like people less and less
as the day wears out.

But one little incident is deep with meaning
And to this day I am unable to forget it.

It was a winter day in the sixth year of the Republic.
A strong northerly wind blew in bitter cold.
To make my living, I had to be up early.
On my way I encountered scarcely anyone.
And only after much difficulty was I able to find
And hire a rickshaw to take me to the South Gate.
After a while, the wind slowed its fury.
The streets were now free of loose dirt.
The puller picked up speed and ran quickly.
As we neared the gate, someone ran in front of us,
Got entangled in the big wheels, and tumbled to the ground.
A woman with streaks of white in her hair
Who wore ragged clothes, had darted suddenly
From the side of the street directly in front of us.
My puller had turned to swerve out of the way,
But her tattered jacket, unbuttoned and fluttering
In the wind caught the shaft, and, lucky for her,

The puller stopped quickly enough or she
would have been thrown head over heels
and seriously injured.

We came to a halt. The woman remained on all fours.
I did not think that she had been hurt.
No one else had seen the collision.
It irritated me that the puller was lingering
And prepared to get himself involved in complications.
It would delay and prolong my journey. I’d be late.
But he either didn’t hear me or he didn’t care
Because he put down the shafts and gently helped
The old woman to her feet supporting her in his arms.
“Are you alright?” “I am hurt.”

I thought to myself “I saw you fall
And it was not that rough. How can you be hurt?
And the rickshaw driver is making problems for himself.
So let him find his way out of this mess.”

But the puller didn’t hesitate after the old woman said
She was injured. Still holding her arm,
He walked her forward, ahead a police station.
No one stood outside, so he guided her through the gate.

As they passed I experienced a sharp sensation.
I do not know why but at that moment
It suddenly seemed to me that this dust-covered figure
Loomed enormous and larger the further
He walked until finally I had to lift my head
To follow him.

At the same time I felt a pressure on my body
Which came like a shove from his direction.
It seemed to push through me, and out of me
All the littleness under my fur-lined gown.
I grew weak, my vitality was spent
As though my blood had frozen in me.
I sat motionless, stunned and dazed,
Until I saw an officer emerge from the station.

Then I got down from the rickshaw to meet him.
“Get another rickshaw,” the officer advised me.
“This man can’t pull anymore.”
Without thinking, I thrust my hand in my pocket
And pulled out a big fistfull of coppers.
“Give the fellow these,” I told the policeman.

The wind now ceased entirely
But the street was still quiet and deserted.
I questioned myself as I walked along.
Why did you give the money? Was it some kind of reward?
And who was I, after the way I behaved,
To pass judgment upon the rickshaw driver?
I stood there unable to answer my conscience.

Even now that experience burns in my memory.
I recall it often with pain and effort.
The drama of the political and military events
Of all those years are to me like the classics
I read in childhood and quickly forgot.
Now, I can’t even recite half a line.
But always, standing before my eyes,
Purging me with shame, impelling me to improve,
Invigorating my hope and courage; I re-enact
This little incident – each detail distinct
And clear as that day when all this happened.

[based on the Edgar Snow translation]

[Those reading this may also enjoy Tosuke’s Tax, about a typhoon and the aftermath


[Reader, you are welcome to repost either poem and share it with others. Glad to hear from you too – Tom]


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3 Responses to “A Little Incident (story in verse)”

  1. musea Says:

    Hi readers from the Philippines? I’m getting a lot of readers for this from the country of The Philippines. I am glad you read it. Feel free to share it with anyone you want. Tom Hendricks

  2. Jerry Berry Says:

    I can understand the storyteller’s being humbled by the puller’s chivalry, but I do not understand why is it, “This man can’t pull anymore.” How was it the woman was hurt?

    • musea Says:

      The woman was hit by the driver. The driver was busy helping her. ‘This man can’t pull anymore’, meant to me that he would not be able to finish taking the man, his customer, to his destination – helping the injured woman had become his priority.
      Then too there may have been complications in the accident that he needed to sort out. The line says, “It irritated me that the puller was lingering / And prepared to get himself involved in complications.

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