Prison poems by Pastor John Cao

Reflections from Pastor John Cao is a series of poetry and writings from the recently released Chinese Christian prisoner of conscience exclusively published by ChinaAid. The pieces below were written while he was still imprisoned has been minimally edited for clarity. To read more of Pastor John Cao’s poetry, one can purchase the collection written while he was imprisoned, Living Lyrics: Poems from Prison.

 

Daily Song

Daily in prison, daily I sing,

Only because the Lord’s grace abounds more and more.

From the top of Mount Zion, the living spring water

Flows into my heart, never thirsty again.

 

Daily in prison, daily I sing,

Angels surround and fight alongside me.

Heavy burdens lifted, my heart is joyful,

Even the highest mountains can be moved.

 

Daily in prison, daily I sing,

Difficult circumstances train my courage.

The gracious Lord accompanies me through suffering,

In the end, a crown awaits in heaven.

 

Daily in prison, daily I sing,

Brokenness needs the gracious hand’s refining.

New life surpasses the old,

No longer fearing death, I give my all for the Lord.

 

One

The next two pieces were written by my mother in May 2022.

Five years in bonds, no day is wasted,

Life’s poetry continues to be written.

Exploring the origins, researching the Chinese civilization,

Collecting writings, expressing feelings, accumulating carloads.

Chest out, self-whipping, strengthening courage,

Obtaining the Way, reflecting, humbling oneself.

Essential meanings and spiritual energy fill the heart and mind,

Victory is just two fingers away, a moment in time.

 

Two

Daily I clean the bed and desk, filling the blessing cup,

Inviting all to face the prison, tracing my son’s shadow.

Long-awaited, fulfilling the covenant,

A hymn of praise, awaiting my son’s return.

 

Every day, I wipe my son’s bed and desk clean, filling the wine glass. I invite everyone to face the prison and track my son’s news, praying for him. We have all waited for too long, ready to fulfill our vows before God together. We sing praises to the Lord Jesus, welcoming my son’s return.

  

My response poem:

Yearning for mother, tender hands clutching her plain skirt,

Tottering out of the cradle, searching all over the ground.

Now she comes to the prison, becoming my eyes and ears to the world,

A lifetime of loving care, patrolling and sounding the night watchman’s clapper.

 

Ode to High Mountain Tea

One of the most bizarre things I encountered in prison was that I was not allowed to buy tea leaves, while almost all other prisoners could. My cellmate brewed a cup of high mountain tea, and I could also smell the fragrance, so I composed a poem:

Misty rain shrouds the cold peaks in haze,

Striving to draw from the chilly springs.

Heavenly fragrance, dispersed by water’s grace,

Quenching thirst, clearing the mind, a tranquil trace.

 

Growing on the cold mountain peaks shrouded in dense fog, striving to absorb the pure spring water below, the nurtured fragrance, under the infusion of boiling water, spreads its aroma towards the sky. This tea quenches thirst, clears the mind, and makes people feel refreshed. (This poem implies that our Christian life is also like fragrant tea; it requires the infusion of boiling water—the love of the Lord Jesus—to give a beautiful testimony.)

 

Shattered and Reshaped

After the quake, debris flies everywhere in sight,

Dust obscures the broken paths and collapsed walls.

Thousands of hands and prayers arrive just in time,

Brick by brick, tile by tile, they compete to restore.

Quality and appearance surpass the original goods,

Grace fully displays the power of reconstruction.

Spacious new mansions join hands in praise,

Fully equipped, awaiting the return of lost souls.

 

After the earthquake, what you see are clouds of dust flying everywhere, and collapsed walls and ruins all around. Fortunately, the army of aid and prayers arrived in time. The fallen bricks and tiles are all restored to their original appearance, and the new buildings far surpass the original design and quality. Here we see the power of grace to reshape. The newly built spacious mansions join hands in praise, declaring that they are ready and waiting to welcome the return of those lost souls.

 

Unchanging

With unchanging truth, face the ever-changing world,

With unchanging fervor, confront the frozen souls on earth.

With tireless steps, measure the distance to the ends of the earth,

With unchanging humility, receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

With the unchanging identity of a student, accept the teachings of Lord Jesus,

With unchanging heavenly strength, withstand the pressures of the human world.

With wisdom from above, deal with artificial intelligence,

With an unchanging joyful countenance, face facial recognition.

No matter how the world changes, my love for Lord Jesus will never change.

 

Drug Ban Condemnation Ceremony

Grand celebrations contrast with disaster’s blight,

As Lin Zexu sighs in sorrow from the afterlife.

Among the people, some secretly join the fight,

Yet with addicts, in the same cell, they reside.

 

The drug ban commendation ceremony highlights the disaster wrought by drugs, causing Lin Zexu to sigh mournfully from the underworld. Some people are willing to join the anti-drug efforts, but these unsung heroes end up locked in the same prison cells as the drug addicts.

  

The Original Meaning of "Prison"

The character “prison” is an ideogram, showing two dogs flanking a person who dares to speak. In other words, the first people imprisoned were likely those who dared to speak the truth and reason to the emperor.

Two dogs enclose a man, forbidding speech,

Only praise and flattery are allowed to preach.

We don’t expect rewards for pointing out your flaws[1],

Just don’t block the free flow of words like before[2].

 

Notes:

  1. A wise ancient ruler once told his people that whoever could point out his mistakes to his face would receive the highest reward. See “Zou Ji’s Remonstration to the King of Qi”.
  2. “The free flow of words”: referring to freedom of speech. The phrase comes from “Guarding against people’s mouths is more crucial than guarding against floods”, see “Duke Shao’s remonstration to king Li to stop slander”.
 

They send two dogs to flank a person bringing good news, only allowing praise, flattery, and ceaseless propaganda for the leaders. We’re not asking you to be like the wise rulers of old who rewarded critics, just don’t be like the tyrants who completely stripped away freedom of speech.

 

The Original Meaning of "Punish"

The character “punish” is an ideogram, showing a net above a person who speaks, with a knife beside them.

A net covers the entire realm,

Sharp knives search every alley and lane.

Occasionally, a fearless commoner asks,

“Why make enemies of those who speak the truth?”

 

A net covers all of China, and a sharp knife weaves through the streets and alleys, seeking out those who dare to speak. But occasionally, there are still commoners who are not afraid to die and ask the emperor: Why must you make enemies of those who speak the truth?

 

 

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Prison poems by Pastor John Cao

Reflections from Pastor John Cao is a series of poetry and writings from the recently released Chinese Christian prisoner of conscience exclusively published by ChinaAid. The pieces below were written while he was still imprisoned has been minimally edited for clarity. To read more of Pastor John Cao’s poetry, one can purchase the collection written while he was imprisoned, Living Lyrics: Poems from Prison.

 

Daily Song

Daily in prison, daily I sing,

Only because the Lord’s grace abounds more and more.

From the top of Mount Zion, the living spring water

Flows into my heart, never thirsty again.

 

Daily in prison, daily I sing,

Angels surround and fight alongside me.

Heavy burdens lifted, my heart is joyful,

Even the highest mountains can be moved.

 

Daily in prison, daily I sing,

Difficult circumstances train my courage.

The gracious Lord accompanies me through suffering,

In the end, a crown awaits in heaven.

 

Daily in prison, daily I sing,

Brokenness needs the gracious hand’s refining.

New life surpasses the old,

No longer fearing death, I give my all for the Lord.

 

One

The next two pieces were written by my mother in May 2022.

Five years in bonds, no day is wasted,

Life’s poetry continues to be written.

Exploring the origins, researching the Chinese civilization,

Collecting writings, expressing feelings, accumulating carloads.

Chest out, self-whipping, strengthening courage,

Obtaining the Way, reflecting, humbling oneself.

Essential meanings and spiritual energy fill the heart and mind,

Victory is just two fingers away, a moment in time.

 

Two

Daily I clean the bed and desk, filling the blessing cup,

Inviting all to face the prison, tracing my son’s shadow.

Long-awaited, fulfilling the covenant,

A hymn of praise, awaiting my son’s return.

 

Every day, I wipe my son’s bed and desk clean, filling the wine glass. I invite everyone to face the prison and track my son’s news, praying for him. We have all waited for too long, ready to fulfill our vows before God together. We sing praises to the Lord Jesus, welcoming my son’s return.

  

My response poem:

Yearning for mother, tender hands clutching her plain skirt,

Tottering out of the cradle, searching all over the ground.

Now she comes to the prison, becoming my eyes and ears to the world,

A lifetime of loving care, patrolling and sounding the night watchman’s clapper.

 

Ode to High Mountain Tea

One of the most bizarre things I encountered in prison was that I was not allowed to buy tea leaves, while almost all other prisoners could. My cellmate brewed a cup of high mountain tea, and I could also smell the fragrance, so I composed a poem:

Misty rain shrouds the cold peaks in haze,

Striving to draw from the chilly springs.

Heavenly fragrance, dispersed by water’s grace,

Quenching thirst, clearing the mind, a tranquil trace.

 

Growing on the cold mountain peaks shrouded in dense fog, striving to absorb the pure spring water below, the nurtured fragrance, under the infusion of boiling water, spreads its aroma towards the sky. This tea quenches thirst, clears the mind, and makes people feel refreshed. (This poem implies that our Christian life is also like fragrant tea; it requires the infusion of boiling water—the love of the Lord Jesus—to give a beautiful testimony.)

 

Shattered and Reshaped

After the quake, debris flies everywhere in sight,

Dust obscures the broken paths and collapsed walls.

Thousands of hands and prayers arrive just in time,

Brick by brick, tile by tile, they compete to restore.

Quality and appearance surpass the original goods,

Grace fully displays the power of reconstruction.

Spacious new mansions join hands in praise,

Fully equipped, awaiting the return of lost souls.

 

After the earthquake, what you see are clouds of dust flying everywhere, and collapsed walls and ruins all around. Fortunately, the army of aid and prayers arrived in time. The fallen bricks and tiles are all restored to their original appearance, and the new buildings far surpass the original design and quality. Here we see the power of grace to reshape. The newly built spacious mansions join hands in praise, declaring that they are ready and waiting to welcome the return of those lost souls.

 

Unchanging

With unchanging truth, face the ever-changing world,

With unchanging fervor, confront the frozen souls on earth.

With tireless steps, measure the distance to the ends of the earth,

With unchanging humility, receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

With the unchanging identity of a student, accept the teachings of Lord Jesus,

With unchanging heavenly strength, withstand the pressures of the human world.

With wisdom from above, deal with artificial intelligence,

With an unchanging joyful countenance, face facial recognition.

No matter how the world changes, my love for Lord Jesus will never change.

 

Drug Ban Condemnation Ceremony

Grand celebrations contrast with disaster’s blight,

As Lin Zexu sighs in sorrow from the afterlife.

Among the people, some secretly join the fight,

Yet with addicts, in the same cell, they reside.

 

The drug ban commendation ceremony highlights the disaster wrought by drugs, causing Lin Zexu to sigh mournfully from the underworld. Some people are willing to join the anti-drug efforts, but these unsung heroes end up locked in the same prison cells as the drug addicts.

  

The Original Meaning of "Prison"

The character “prison” is an ideogram, showing two dogs flanking a person who dares to speak. In other words, the first people imprisoned were likely those who dared to speak the truth and reason to the emperor.

Two dogs enclose a man, forbidding speech,

Only praise and flattery are allowed to preach.

We don’t expect rewards for pointing out your flaws[1],

Just don’t block the free flow of words like before[2].

 

Notes:

  1. A wise ancient ruler once told his people that whoever could point out his mistakes to his face would receive the highest reward. See “Zou Ji’s Remonstration to the King of Qi”.
  2. “The free flow of words”: referring to freedom of speech. The phrase comes from “Guarding against people’s mouths is more crucial than guarding against floods”, see “Duke Shao’s remonstration to king Li to stop slander”.
 

They send two dogs to flank a person bringing good news, only allowing praise, flattery, and ceaseless propaganda for the leaders. We’re not asking you to be like the wise rulers of old who rewarded critics, just don’t be like the tyrants who completely stripped away freedom of speech.

 

The Original Meaning of "Punish"

The character “punish” is an ideogram, showing a net above a person who speaks, with a knife beside them.

A net covers the entire realm,

Sharp knives search every alley and lane.

Occasionally, a fearless commoner asks,

“Why make enemies of those who speak the truth?”

 

A net covers all of China, and a sharp knife weaves through the streets and alleys, seeking out those who dare to speak. But occasionally, there are still commoners who are not afraid to die and ask the emperor: Why must you make enemies of those who speak the truth?

 

 

News
Read more ChinaAid stories
Click Here
Write
Send encouraging letters to prisoners
Click Here
Previous slide
Next slide

Send your support

Fight for religious freedom in China

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