- 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 - li bai
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
uprising / 登鹳雀楼 - 王之涣 climbing guan que tower* - wang zhi huan
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 - su shi
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.
the hills are empty with no trace of humankind but the sound of human voices can be heard. the evening sun, refracted through clouds, enters the deep forest and shines upon the green moss.
*Lu Zhai, or Deer Camp – a landscape feature in Wang Chuan Bie Ye (辋川别业), a private garden constructed by Wang Wei in the Wangchuan valley, in modern Shaanxi.
bitcoin / 题西林壁 - 苏轼 written on the walls of xilin* - su shi
seen straight on, a ridge; seen from the side, a peak; whether from far or near, high or low, it looks different from each angle. i'll never be able to tell the true face of mount lu**, only because i stand within mount lu itself.
*xilin: refers to xilin temple (west woods temple), on the western foothills of mount lu **mount lu: in the northern part of jiangxi province - one of the most famous mountains in china, known for its waterfall. more of a massive mountain range than a mountain alone, renowned for its breathtaking views and imposing stature.
morning after / 春晓 - 孟浩然 waking in spring - meng hao ran
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 - bai ju yi
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
drinking solo/ 月下独酌 - 李白 drinking alone beneath the moon - li bai
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
auntie karen scolds her hairdresser / 满江红·怒发冲冠 - 岳飞 the whole river is red* - anger, bristling hair - yue fei
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.
one more round / 将进酒 - 李白 let's have a round - li bai
do you not see that the waters of the Yellow River come from the sky*, rushing to the ocean and never returning? do you not see high halls and bright mirrors reflecting white hairs, in the morning black strands, and at night turned to snow? when the good times are here, one should celebrate, why let this golden cup be empty-faced at the moon? heaven birthed a talent like me to have a purpose, i could scatter a thousand gold bars and be able to get them back somehow, let's cook some mutton and butcher some beef for our celebration, we should drink three hundred cups at a go. Mr Yin, Dan Qiu sir**, let's have a round, don't let the cups stop. let me sing you all a song, please give me your ears. this high life of song and fine dining, who cares of it? i only wish i could be drunk forever and never be roused. since the olden days, the saints and sages have always been ignored, only those who can drink leave their name behind. those days when the king of Chen held a banquet at Ping Le*** swilling $10,000 bottles of wine in wanton revelry! boss, why do you say i don't have enough money? just bring in more wine for me to drink with my friends. five-flower horse****, thousand-dollar pelt, ask the waiter to pawn them for fine wine, let me drink with you to exhaust these ancient sorrows.
*in this case, "the sky" 天上来 refers to Qinghai, the source of the Yellow River, and its high terrain. **Yin Fu Zi and Dan Qiu Sheng are 岑勋 and 元丹丘， close friends of Li Bai ***the king of Chen(陈王）refers to Cao Zhi 曹植 of the Three Kingdoms era, who once held an epic banquet at Ping Le, a location outside Luoyang. Cao Zhi was a legendary poet himself, perhaps best known for being challenged by his brother, the emperor Cao Pi, to write a poem in seven steps or die, and busting out the epic 七步诗 (seven step poem) about beans being boiled in a pot by burning bean straw (metaphor for violent brotherhood), that is branded in every 90's sg chinese child mine as an advertisement for soybean milk. but i digress. ****a name for a really expensive horse of many colors.
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.
the drone / 旅夜书怀 - 杜甫 night travel, feelings - du fu
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*
*a novel by Boey Kim Cheng!
new year's eve / 青玉案·元夕 - 辛弃疾 sapphire table* - new year's eve - xin qi ji
east wind at night, and the lanterns like a thousand flower trees blooming, and blowing and falling, like stars, like rain,** sumptuous horse carts with wafting fragrances fill the roads. the reeds and flutes play, the jade kettle turns with her light***, and the whole night the dance of fish and dragon****. moths and meadowsweet and golden strands^, the sounds of sweet laughter, passing perfume. in the crowd i searched for her, a hundred or a thousand times, and suddenly i turned back, and without thinking, saw her where the lights were most dim.
*The title is a name of a ci **referring to fireworks or lanterns *** jade kettle refers to the moon, or lanterns ****fish lanterns vs dragon lanterns. hell lot of lanterns in this poem ^these are all ornaments that ladies wore on their heads during festivals
susurrus / 声声慢·寻寻觅觅 - 李清照 slow sounds - searching and searching - li qing zhao
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).
three ways* of looking at li yu / 相见欢· 无言独上西楼- 李煜 the joy of meeting** - wordless, alone i climb the western tower - li yu
wordless, alone i climb the western tower, the moon like a hook. a lonely parasol tree shades the courtyard in deep autumn. that which is uncuttable, unsortable*** - the sorrow of parting. an indescribable flavor in my heart.****
*i translated this poem three different times, three different ways, because it is really quite untranslatable **the title is the name of a ci *** the metaphor here is that of a ball of hemp, so entwined and twisted it can't be cut, yet also can't be sorted or combed out. in this particular case, li yu is describing the sorrow of being parted from his country. (his bio is in a later note) - i've parsed it three different ways as hiraeth, mono no aware, and saudade - all notably untranslatable phrases in different (non-english) languages. ****this is one of the hardest lines to translate in the Chinese language, especially because it describes - uniqueness, "other-ness", differentness, being not like any other... essentially it describes untranslatability.
translating li yu / 虞美人·春花秋月何时了- 李煜* the beautiful lady yu** - when will spring flowers and autumn moon end? - li yu
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 - liu yu xi
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 - du fu
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? - su shi
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.
of the garden / 过故人庄 - 孟浩然 passing an old friend's home - meng hao ran
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.
a dream of pears (an extract) / 白雪歌送武判官归京 - 岑参 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.
poxless pox / 花非花 - 白居易 flower / not flower - bai ju yi
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.
leaving wuhan in march / 黄鹤楼送孟浩然之广陵 - 李白 on the yellow crane tower*, sending meng haoran** to guangling* - li bai
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.
morning at joo chiat / 枫桥夜泊 - 张继 mooring by night at the maple bridge* - zhang ji
the moon dips, crows caw, and the sky full of frost*, the maple trees by the river and the lights of fishing boats are paired in uneasy sleep. outside the city of Gu Su**, the Han Shan Temple's*** midnight bells**** reach the guestboats.
*maple bridge or feng qiao is a bridge outside of Suzhou city. It used to be named 封桥, but was renamed as 枫桥 (homophonic) after this famous poem, which inaccurately described the numerous red-leaved trees by the bridge as maple trees"枫“. **Gu Su: modern Suzhou ***Han Shan Temple: "Cold Mountain Temple". Not named after any particular mountain, but because a famous Tang Dynasty monk, Han Shan (Cold Mountain) lived there. Its famous bell was removed by the Japanese in World War 2. ****midnight bells: a habit particular to the temples of the Suzhou area - to strike a late night bell to mark the passing of half the night.
eid al-adha / 九月九日忆山东兄弟 - 王维 on the ninth day of the ninth month*, remembering my brother in shandong - wang wei
alone in a foreign land, i am a foreign guest at every festive date, my thoughts of my family are redoubled from far away, knowing that brother will be climbing the heights, alas, when they pin the dogwood**, there's one person missing.
*ninth day of ninth month: this is the chong yang (double solar) festival. the number 9 represents the Yang / solar element, so the 9th of the 9th is an auspicious date and one of the four major chinese festivals. on this date, Chinese climb to high ground, carrying dogwood, and visit their elderly relatives. **dogwood: on the chong yang festival, a bag of dogwood is pinned on the sleeves before climbing heights. this is meant to ward off bad luck.
off day / 登岳阳楼 - 杜甫 climbing yue yang tower - du fu
i've heard much about the waters of Dong Ting*, and so today I climb the Yue Yang Tower**. the lands of Wu and Chu*** split east and south, sun and moon float day and night in this lake. not a single word from my family and friends, old and sickly, all that is left to me is like a lonely boat.**** the sounds of war are in the northern mountains, i lean on the banister and my tears uncontrollably flow.
*Dong Ting: Dong Ting Lake, a large lake in northeastern Hunan province. (Hubei and Hunan provinces are named after their relative positions north (bei) and south (nan) of this lake (hu)). It is where dragonboating originated. **Yue Yang Building: an ancient tower in the city of Yue Yang, Hunan province, on the shore of Dong Ting Lake. One of the three great towers of Jiangnan together with Yellow Crane Tower and the Pavilion of Prince Teng. ***Wu and Chu: the ancient kingdoms of Wu and Chu during the Spring and Autumn period, located in the southeast part of China separated by the Yangtze. ****old and sickly: Du Fu was 57 when he wrote this, and was suffering from lung disease, arthralgia, and was deaf in one ear. not a single word: in this case, referring to not a single letter. a lonely boat: without a sail, floating aimlessly in a lake.
in the season of qing ming*, rain flutters down, the passersby on the road are flustered and disoriented** i ask where i can find a winehouse the cowherd boy points towards the plum village.*** *qing ming: one of the four major chinese festivals, usually around April. on this date, Chinese sweep their ancestors' graves. **欲断魂: "as if their souls were cut off", describing the effect of the constant spring rains on passersby - demoralised, disoriented. ***杏花村: Xinghua or Plum Flower village. heavily debated where this location actually is, as there are several dozen Xinghua villages in China. (it could also just be a village with a lot of plum flowers around it...) because of this very famous poem, "Xinghua Cun" is a very popular name for watering holes.
phillips investor centre / 江雪 - 柳宗元 river snow - liu zong yuan
through many mountains, birds fly until they cannot be seen. on countless paths, the footprints of humans have disappeared. a single boat and an old man in a raincoat* alone fishes the snow of the cold river.
*蓑笠 refers to the combination of a traditional raincoat made of straw, and a wide conical hat made of bamboo used to protect against the rain. motorcycles, woodlands / 送友人 - 李白 sending off a friend - li bai
the green mountains lie horizontal beyond the north wall, clear white waters encircle the city to the east. this is the place where we part, where my friend begins a journey of ten thousand miles. a cloud floats as if the thoughts of a wanderer, the sun sets on my feelings for my old friend. we wave as we depart from here, neigh, neigh* - our horses sorrowful cry.
*萧萧: xiao xiao, an onomatopoeic sorrowful neigh. ikea conversations / 宿建德江 - 孟浩然 sleeping in the jian de river - meng hao ran
moving the boat to moor at the mist-covered sand spur in the middle of the river, and as dusk falls, the guest finds new worries. beyond the wide wilds, the sky dips towards the border of the trees in the clear surface of the river, the moon seems to approach the man.
wandersong / 游子吟 - 孟郊 song of the wanderer - meng jiao
thread in the hands of a loving mother, clothes on the body of a wandering son. before he leaves, she sews his clothes tightly and carefully, worrying that he will come home late. whoever said, his heart, an inch of grass, could repay this love, radiant as three seasons of spring?
sending off second son / 送元二使安西 - 王维 sending the second son of Yuan off to Anxi*
morning rain at Wei City** wets the light dust, beside the guesthouse, the willow is fresh with verdant color my friend, drink another cup of wine once you go west through the Yang Pass, you'll meet no friends
*Anxi: modern Kuqa town in Xinjiang, a far western outpost. **Wei City / Wei Cheng: modern Xianyang, in Shaanxi. the old capital of Qin. ***Yang Pass: located near modern Dunhuang in Gansu - an important pass controlling travel to the west.
returning / 回乡偶书 - 贺知章 occasional notes on returning to my hometown - he zhi zhang
leaving home at a young age, returning much older, my accent hasn't changed much, but my sideburns have grown sparse. the children see me and don't recognise me. laughing, they ask - from where has this guest come from?
cannot find boss / 寻隐者不遇 - 贾岛 searching for a hermit, but not coming across him - jia dao
under the pine, i question the boy. he says his master has gone to pick herbs. he only knows his master is somewhere in this mountain, deep in the clouds in a place unknown.
the queue / 登幽州台歌 - 陈子昂 song on climbing the Youzhou Pavilion*
before, i cannot see the ancients**, behind, i cannot see the new ones***. i think of the infinite bounds of heaven and earth alone, overwhelmed, my tears fall.
*Youzhou Pavilion - Youzhou is modern Beijing. Youzhou Pavilion is also known as the Golden Pavilion, and is no longer present. It was built by the Zhao king of the Yan Kingdom to gather talents from across the land. **ancients: those ancient rulers who would gather talents and treat them with respect ***new ones: future rulers who would gather talents and treat them with respect.
a broken halberd sunk in the riverbed sand, its steel not yet rusted i pick it up, clean and shine it, and recognise an artifact of a former dynasty if the east wind did not give Zhou Yu the time of day the two Qiaos would have been locked on the Copper Sparrow Terrace
*the battle of red cliff was the pivotal battle between Shu+Wu vs Wei that established the three kingdoms period, primarily by having the Shu-Wu alliance defeat the much larger Wei army, more or less preventing Cao Cao of Wei from unifying China during his lifetime. Zhou Yu was the chief strategist of Wu, and concocted a plan to use a combination of stratagems to convince Cao Cao to link his fleet together so that his northerners (not so familiar with sea battles) would have stable platforms to fight from - and then for the Wu army to set them on fire. However, he lacked one key thing - the East wind that would sweep the fire across the Wei fleet. The chief strategist of Shu, the legendary-level Zhuge Liang, was responsible for "borrowing the East Wind", either via some mystical arts, or an early knowledge of meteorology. Cao Cao's fleet was burned and he lost most of his army and had to flee north. Prior to starting the Red Cliff campaign, he had actually erected the massive Copper Sparrow Terrace as a sign of Wei's richness, and joked about bringing the two Qiaos of Wu to be locked up at the Terrace to serve him. the two Qiaos were notable Wu beauties - the elder was married to Sun Quan, ruler of Wu, and the younger to Zhou Yu.
neither civil nor servant / 侠客行 - 李白 the path of the hero - li bai
the hero of Zhao, wearing an unadorned tassel* carrying the Wu Gou** blade as bright as frost a silver saddle shines from his white horse galloping like a shooting star every ten steps, he slays a foe he travels a thousand miles and no one can stop him when he's done, he shakes out his sleeves and goes, concealing his name and deeds. (in olden days), heroes drinking with Xin Ling*** would take off their swords and place them across their knees, cooking meat to feed Zhu Hai, carrying glasses to convince Hou Ying after three drinks, he makes a promise,**** weightier than the five mountains. even as his eyes blur and his ears grow hot, his spirit rouses rainbows from the heavens. to save Zhao, he wielded golden hammers,^ all of Handan was in terror. the deeds of these two heroes will last a thousand autumns and long be talked about in Daliang City. even if they die, their bones are fragrant, with nothing to be ashamed of, heroes on this earth and who wants to be like Yang Xiong, writing his Book of Tai Xuan as his hair goes white?^^^
*Zhao: many heroes came from the lands of Yan and Zhao. **Wu Gou: a famous sword's name. "Hook of Wu"? ***Xin Ling: 信陵君, Lord of Xin Ling, known for recognising talent and being generous with them. Zhu Hai and Hou Ying: two heroes who was convinced to serve Xin Ling after he put in effort to win their favor. Zhu Hai used to be a butcher. ****after three drinks: this is meant to show how the hero gives his word lightly, but once given, treats it with immense weight. the five mountains are Mt Tai, Mt Hua, Mt Song, Mt Heng, and Mt Heng(2), the five most famous mountains in Chinese history. but they're also quite heavy. eyes blur ears hot: symptoms of drunknenness. rainbows from heavens: basically the heavens are impressed by the spirit of this dude and they shine rainbows for him. ^to save Zhao: essentially the kingdom of Zhao, besieged by Qin, called for help from Xin Ling. Xin Ling had no army and the King of Wei, his ruler, had given it to a general, Jin Bi. As advised by Hou Ying, he went to go and steal Jin Bi's army with false orders, and used Zhu Hai to go its hammering time on Jin Bi's head, then took the army and defeated Qin, causing much weeping in the capital of Qin, Handan. much good things were said about these heroes in Daliang, the capital of Wei. ^^Yang Xiong spent his entire life writing an epic called the Book of Tai Xuan, working as a registry clerk. his hair went white writing it. Li Bai, being a drunken boor, shits on him.
bukit ho swee / 茅屋为秋风所破歌 - 杜甫 song of the thatched house destroyed by the autumn wind - du fu
in the eighth month, late autumn, howling winds sweep off the layers of thatch on my house. the straw flies across the river and is scattered on its banks, high-flying pieces hanging at the treetop branches, low-flying pieces dipping and sinking into the shallow water.
youths from the southern village take advantage of my age and weakness, and are cruel enough to openly thieve us. openly, they pick up the straw and carry it away into the bamboo groves, my parched lips and sore throat can't call them to a halt, i return, resting on my walking stick and sighing to myself.
in a moment, the wind stops and the clouds turn inky black, the autumn sky dims and blurs towards darkness. my cloth blankets have been covered for years, now cold and hard as iron, my spoilt brat can't find the right sleeping position and kicks through them. the whole house no longer has a dry corner, the raindrops are like hemp, incessant and unbroken. since the time of troubles*, i have slept little, yet this long night, wet and damp - how to make it till dawn?
if only there were a thousand ample homes, to shelter all the needy and bring smiles to their faces, unmoved by wind and rain, safe as a mountain. *SIGH*! if there was a moment these homes suddenly appeared in front of my eyes, then even if my thatched house was destroyed, dying from the cold wouuld be worth it!
*time of troubles 丧乱: referring to the An Lu Shan rebellion in the middle of the Tang Dynasty, a period of internal strife and suffering for the people of Tang. the rebellion was eventually defeated, but it would mark the turning point of Tang's fortunes, and the beginning of a long slide towards its downfall. Du Fu was very much a man of these troubled times, which is why he can sound really whiny sometimes to us denizens of peace.
memories by the bay / 念奴娇·赤壁怀古 - 苏轼 the beauty of nian nu* - thinking of the old days at the red cliffs - su shi
the great river** flows to the east, the waves wash on till their end, these legends of old. that former camp to the west, people say it is the red cliffs of the three kingdoms and zhou yu.*** steep cliffs thrust into the sky, wild waves hammer the riverbanks, sweeping up spray like a thousand drifts of snow. this country like a painting, and how many heroes of those era!
imagining zhou yu in his day, just wedded the younger qiao, in all his heroic majesty. holding a feathered fan in his hand, with a scarf around his head - in a moment of his laughter and conversation, the masts and rudders of cao cao's fleet burnt to ash and blown away as smoke. navigating this battlefield of the ancient kingdoms, one should laugh at my sentimentality, and how my hairs have turned white before my time. life is as a dream - let me return a toast of wine to the moon above the river.
*the title is that of a ci. nian nu was a famous songstress of the tang dynasty, and an occasional consort of the Tang Xuanzong emperor - this ci was named after her. **this refers to the yangtze ***see earlier notes on the battle of the red cliffs.
junction of ulu pandan and clementi road / 滁州西涧 - 韦应物 the western stream of chuzhou - wei ying wu
i've singularly loved the quiet grass that grows by the banks of this stream and above the black-naped orioles singing in the close-knit foliage the spring tides bring evening rain and turbulence to the stream and in this country crossing, with no one to watch it, my boat drifts into the middle of the river.
over the PIE / 登高 - 杜甫 climbing the heights - du fu
heavy winds at the heights, and the cries of apes are sorrowful, over a quiet islet and white sands, birds fly back and forth. endless falling leaves pattering down, the boundless yangtze rolling in. thousands of miles from my home town, i feel autumn's sorrow as i am constantly a guest, and in the late years of my life, troubled by disease, i climb this tower alone. the troubles* and my own regrets have added strands of white to my temples, frustrated and unfulfilled, i can't even drink the dregs of this wine.**
*referring both to the national troubles (an lu shan rebellion) and du fu's own frustrations at being unrecognised and unable to contribute to his country. **in his late years, du fu contracted pulmonary disease (tuberculosis) and had to stop drinking. the poem is about climbing the heights, the practice commonly carried out on the Chong Yang festival. usually climbing the heights is accompanied by drinking wine, and du fu can't even do that now.
a dream of sentosa cove / 浪淘沙令·帘外雨潺潺- 李煜 waves scouring the sand* - outside the curtain, the rain murmurs - li yu
outside the curtain, the rain murmurs, the notion of spring beginning to wane, my thin blankets can't withstand the early morning chill. in my dreams, i forget that i am a guest**, for a moment i am immersed in enjoying myself.
when alone, one shouldn't stand at the banister, such a boundless country, so easy to be parted from and so hard when you see it. flowing water, falling flowers, there goes the spring, there is heaven, and this is earth.***
*the title is the name of a ci **essentially a prisoner. li yu is a defeated ruler held as a guest in his conqueror's capital (see earlier biographical note) ***li yu basically moaning about the loss of his country (heaven) and how he is trapped in a foreign land (mortal earth). the banister thing is him standing at a high tower and looking at his former lands in the distance.
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.