- the english translations here are my own, and are mainly literal translations rather than literary ones - most of my artifice is reserved for the book. *these are work-in-progress and should be completed by point of publication. - i have provided limited english notes particularly on cultural or location-specific references. - all the original chinese texts are linked in the title to their respective baidu pages, which provide extensive and detailed annotations, bai hua / plain Chinese versions, and in most cases, textual analyses / commentary.
thoughts, silent night / 静夜思 - 李白 Quiet Night Thoughts
Before the window, the light of the moon As if frost on the ground Raising my head, I look at the moon Lowering my head, I think of my hometown
The sun disappears beneath the mountains The Yellow River flows into the ocean To maximise your view, even up to a thousand miles Go up another level
*Guan Que Tower: or Stork Tower, located by the banks of the Yellow River in the ancient city of Puzhou in modern Shanxi. The tower was built in ~557-571 AD. Wang Zhi Huan visited in ~704 and wrote this poem, enshrining its place in Chinese history. It was burnt down in the Jin Dynasty, and rebuilt in the 1990s - it is now a popular tourist destination with a great view of the Yellow River.
The red saga seeds* originate in the southern lands In spring, how many branches will grow? I wish you would pick more of them These things remind us most of longing
*The saga tree (Adenanthera pavonina) grows in the tropics. The seeds of the tree are bright red and heart-shaped, and are known as 相思豆 ("longing bean") - they are a symbol of love in China. The seeds are mildly toxic when raw and should not be confused with the beans of red bean soup.
kira-kira filter / 蝶恋花·春景 - 苏轼 Butterfly Romance Flowers
The apricot blossoms have withered and the green apricots are still small As the sparrows fly, clear waters encircle the houses of people. On the willow branches, the catkins have been blown sparse. Where in the world is there no fragrant grass? Within the walls, a swing; outside the walls, a road. Outside the walls, a passerby; within the walls, the laughter of a beautiful girl. Her laughter fades until it can no longer be heard. The one with more feelings is vexed by the thoughtless one.
*The title is the name of a ci. Most ci are equivalent to standard tunes to which poets fill in multiple versions of lyrics, which become known by separate titles distinct from the ci, or in the absence thereof, by the opening line of the lyric. Each ci has specific requirements of length, meter, and rhyme, but have uneven line lengths as contrasted to the 4-line jueju and the 8-line lüshi.
Sleeping in spring, and before I realise it, dawn. All around I hear the call of birds. I remember last night the sound of wind and rain. How many flowers have fallen?
the comments / 赋得古原草送别 - 白居易 For the farewell on the grass of the old plains
Green and verdant the grass on the plains Every year it withers and regrows The wild fires cannot fully burn it away When the breeze of spring blows, it grows again Its far-reaching fragrance occupies the old pathways Verdant in the morning, it reaches the abandoned cities Again I send my friend off for a long journey The grass is lush and full of the feeling of departure
kalsarikannit / 月下独酌 - 李白 Drinking alone beneath the moon
Amidst the flowers, a flask of wine Drinking alone with no dear friends I lift my glass to invite the moon My shadow makes us three The moon does not know how to drink My shadow aimlessly follows my body For now, accompanied by moon and shadow Carrying out enjoyment for the sake of spring I sing, as the moon walks back and forth I dance, as my shadow flickers uncertainly While sober, we party together While drunk, we each go our own way Forever let us join this journey, feelingless And arrange to meet in the heavens
redhead / 满江红·怒发冲冠 - 岳飞 The Whole River is Red* - Anger, Bristling Hair
Raging, my hair bristles and dislodges my headgear; standing at the banister; the rapid rain comes to a stop. i raise my eyes, and cry out to the heavens; my feelings, ambitions fill my chest. at the age of thirty, my accomplishments are worthless as dust and dirt; eight thousand miles of campaigning under the clouds and moon. don't dwell in ease, until young men's heads turn white, and mourn in vain.
The shame of Jing Kang**, has not been redressed. the anger of this courtier, when will it be extinguished? drive a battle chariot and trample a gap through He Lan Mountain***. my aspirations are resilient, and while hungry, i will dine on the flesh of the Hu Lu****; i will laugh and talk and while thirsty, drink the blood of the Xiong Nu****. i will return, recapture all the old territory, and report to the emperor!
*the title is the name of a ci. **Jing Kang: this is the year-naming convention of the Qinzong emperor. In his second year (1127), the Jin troops conquered the Northern Song capital Bianliang and captured Qinzong and his abdicated father Huizong, ending the Northern Song Dynasty. The remnants of the kingdom moved south to begin the Southern Song Dynasty under the Gaozong emperor. The two former emperors were brought back to the Jin capital and died in captivity. This incident caused great shame to the Song Dynasty officials, including Yue Fei. ***He Lan Mountain: a mountain range running between modern Ningxia and Inner Mongolia. Its high ground made it militarily significant, and it was held by the Jin Dynasty throughout its struggle with Song. ****Hu Lu: A derogatory term, "barbarians", usually referring to the northern Nüzhen tribes that raided the Song (and eventually became the Qing Dynasty) ; Xiong Nu: One of the many northern tribes that raided the Song Dynasty - both of these terms are here used to refer to the Jin invaders.
Fine wine of grapes and a luminous jade cup About to drink, but the sound of battle* calls me to my horse If I lie drunk on the battlefield, don’t laugh at me Since olden days, how many return from battle anyway?
*琵琶 pí pá: a traditional string instrument akin to a lute. The poet could be alluding to the sounds of pi pa as a call to battle, though the pi pa is not a traditional military instrument, or they could mean that the pi pa is being played with urgency at a farewell feast before the battle, evoking the sense of horseback and war.
The capital has fallen, but the mountains and rivers of the country remain Outside Chang An city in spring, the grass grows deep Ruing the times, even seeing flowers, I shed tears Bemoaning departure, even a bird can startle my heart The fires of war burning for three months A letter from home worth ten thousand gold bars White-headed, I scratch till it’s even shorter Until I cannot even pin it down*.
*簪: zān, a hairpin used to pin down the hair of adult males in ancient China.
fine grass in the light wind by the shore precipitously high masts. i alone moored in a boat by night. the stars droop towards the vastness of the wilderness, the reflected moon surges as the great river flows. my name has been made through the essays i've authored, i retire from my official rank because of age and sickness. what does my floating, drifting life resemble? a lone gull between heaven and earth
searching and searching, cold and deserted, miserable, wretched, sad. in this time of sudden warmth yet returning to cold - it's hard to rest. two or three cups of weak wine - how can they stand against the late-coming, rushing wind? wild geese fly past, and it hurts me, for they were my friends in the old times.
the floor is covered with mounds of chrysanthemums, haggard and withered, and who can pick them up? guarding the window, how will i make it to nightfall alone? the parasol tree as well as the light rain, even till sunset, still drips its droplets. looking at this scene, how can i - sum it all with the word "sorrow"?
This piece is most distinct for the first fourteen repeated words, conveying the almost obsessive-compulsive emotions of the poet with onomatopoeia. *The title is the name of a ci.
getting towards evening, i feel discomfited, and drive my cart up to the old garden the sunset is infinitely beautiful, except it is near to the dusk.
*the "old garden" and the title refer to 乐游原 Lè yóu yúan: an elevated park in the south of modern-day Xi An - the highest point in the old Tang capital of Chang An with a good view of the city. 原 (plains) is sometimes confused with 苑 (park/garden).
the beautiful lady yu** - when will spring flowers and autumn moon end?
the flowers that bloom in spring and the moon that shines in autumn - when will this come to an end? the things of the past - how much do we know of them? in my small apartments last night, the east wind again; my former nation does not bear relooking at in the clear moonlight.
the sculpted columns and jade steps should still be there, only the beautiful faces have changed. if you ask me how much sorrow i have - just as a river of spring water flowing to the east.
*Li Yu is the last ruler of Southern Tang, which was conquered by the Song Dynasty. This was his final poem, written as a fallen noble living on the benevolence of a foreign kingdom. The references to the east wind and water flowing east (a reference to his former kingdom) triggered the foundering emperor of Tang, who executed Li for this poem. **the title is the name of a ci. translation / 乌衣巷 - 刘禹锡 Wu Yi Lane
by the Zhu Que bridge*, wild grass and flowers at the mouth of Wu Yi lane**, the sunset slants the swallows that nested in the halls of Premiers Wang and Xie*** now fly into an ordinary person's home
*Zhu Que bridge: Zhu Que is the vermillion bird, one of the four mythical animals of Chinese legend. The bridge is a large and well-traversed historical bridge over the Qin Huai river, situated in modern Nanjing (former Jian Kang / Jin Ling, capital of the Six Dynasties and then the largest city in the world).
**Wu Yi lane: Wu Yi, or dark clothing. The lane is thus named because of the former royal guards camp situated here - the royal guards all wore dark uniforms.
***Wang and Xie: Wang Dao and Xie An were former premiers in the Six Dynasties, whose large and powerful families all lived in Wu Yi lane. Their homes were known for accumulating many swallows. After the Six Dynasty period and the rise of Tang, the lane and the houses were all abandoned and became ruins.
your message is taking longer than usual to send / 送远 - 杜甫 sending, on a distant journey
warriors in armor fill heaven and earth, why am i still traveling, now! my friends and family all in tears, i saddle my horse away away from this lone city. the grass and trees are withering as we enter the late seasons, the rivers in the high territory are quiet and clear with frost and snow. even though our parting was yesterday, i still feel the sorrow of my ancestors at this scene.
a bandwidth song / 水调歌头·明月几时有- 苏轼 song of water* - when will we see the moon?
when will we see the moon? holding my cup, i ask the heavens. and who knows, in that heavenly palace, what year it is today? i would ride back there on the winds, but i fear those carved walls and jade floors, and the unbearable cold at those heights. rising to dance at play with shadows, how can that compare with this mortal world?
turning past the red passages, dipping beneath the embroidered windows, shining on the sleepless one.**
you should not bear any grudges, why do you always wax to fullness at the point of parting?*** men have their sorrow and joy, their parting and joining, the moon has her dimming and brightening, waxing and waning, never have these things coincided. i only wish that the ones i love are well, and across a thousand miles, we can together appreciate the beautiful moon.
*the title is the name of a ci. **in this stanza, the moonlight turns and dips and shines on the poet. ***in this stanza, the poet turns to address the moon.
an old friend has prepared a feast of chicken and fine rice* and invited me to his home the green trees meet bordering the village the verdant mountains slant beyond the city walls opening the windows to face the fields we hold our winecups and talk of the day's trivialities until the 9th of the 9th* i'll return to appreciate the chrysanthemums
*chicken and rice was one of the best feasts a farmer could provide for his guests. the rice here, 黍shu, is yellow rice, considered premium for the times. **重阳日 chóng yáng rì is the 9th day of the 9th month in the lunar calendar (chong yang meaning double "yangs", and 9 being the number symbolising "yang"), the auspicious date of a traditional Chinese festival, where people climb high places, carry sticks of dogwood with them, pray to their ancestors and local deities, and gather to appreciate the flowers of the season (chrysanthemums) or drink chrysanthemum wine. see "eid al-adha" in this selection.
in the snow, sending off official Wu with song on his journey back to the capital*
the north wind blowing through the ground, bending the white grass** in these distant lands, in the eighth month, already there is flying snow suddenly, as if a night of spring wind, thousands of trees burst forth with pear blossoms***
*this is a four-line extract from a longer 18-line poem, chosen for its distinct and striking imagery. **白草: Fountaingrass or pennisetum centrasiaticum Tzvel. is a kind of grass that grows in the Chinese northwest - after it is dried it turns white. ***the pear blossom or pyrus spp. is a white flower that only blooms in spring. in this case the poet is describing the visual effect of snow-laden branches.
like a flower but not a flower, like mist but not mist. arriving at midnight, departing at dawn. it comes like a dream in spring - how long could it last? it goes like a cloud at daybreak - without a trace.
on the yellow crane tower*, sending meng haoran** to guangling*
my old friend departs west from the yellow egret tower in this third month of mist and bloom, down the river to yangzhou* a lonely sail and his distant figure disappears into the blue i only see the yangtze, flowing towards the end of the sky
*黄鹤楼 / yellow crane tower, a famous landmark in wuhan with a view of the yangtze, made even more legendary by this poem and several others. guangling and yangzhou are areas/cities in the prosperous suzhou district, eastwards down the yangtze from wuhan. **孟浩然 / meng haoran, a notable tang dynasty poet. see "morning after", "in the garden" in this selection.