作者:林逋 (Author:  Lin Bu,  10th century)


众芳摇落独暄妍   many fragrant sway fall alone warm beautiful
占尽风情向小园   occupy exhaust wind feeling toward small garden
疏影横斜水清浅   sparse shadow horizontal slanting water clear shallow
暗香浮动月黄昏   dim fragrant float move moon yellow dusk
霜禽欲下先偷眼   frost (white) bird about to go down first steal eye
粉蝶如知合断魂   pink butterfly if know should break soul
幸有微吟可相狎   luckily have tiny chant can each other intimate 
不须檀板共金樽    not need hard wood clapper together gold goblet 
This is the flower that shows us springtime beauty,
When the others have wobbled and fallen.
It’s the reason we love this small garden.   
Its thin shadows slant across the clear, shallow water
Its hidden fragrance floats beneath the yellow moon.
A snow-white bird steals a look before landing.
If the pink butterflies knew it was here, their hearts should break.
Luckily, I can make these flowers my friends by softly chanting poems.
There’s no need for a golden chalice or a singing girl’s wooden clapper. 
Translation Notes

The poet Lin Bu was a famous recluse in the northern Song dynasty and lived a quiet life in a mountain by the West Lake during his later years.  He was very fond of plums and cranes, and spent much time admiring them.  Since he never married, he earned the reputation of “considering plums his wife and cranes his children,” which was not a compliment in a Confucian society, despite the fact that Lin Bu was a much admired poet. Lin Bu was highly admired in Japan where he came to be regarded as one of the poetic immortals. A famous Japanese painting of Bu hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art today. 


Plum blossoms were very highly regarded in ancient Chinese culture and considered to be symbols of purity, courage, hope, longevity, and many other virtues, in part because they bloom very early in the year, often when there is still frost or snow on the ground. Even today, people say that its three stamens represent Sun Yat-sen’s three principles of the people and that its five petals represent the five branches of government.
We have included many color words in our translation, but it would be possible not to do so. “Yellow moon” frequently refers to dusk and could be translated as such. The “white” which describes a bird literally translates as frosty. The word for pink may also be a shortened version of a word for rouge. Some translations of this poem do not use the colors; we have chosen to use them both because we thought they painted a vivid image in a poem that takes place in a garden and because we suspect that Lin Bu deliberately chose to use yellow, gold, white, and pink since they are the colors of plum blossoms. As with so many translation choices, however, some of the original nuances have been lost. Our translation does not have dusk, frostiness, or a reference to such feminine allurements as rouge, all of which are hinted at in the original. 
The second stanza of the poem is said to have originated from poetry first written by Jiang Wei, a poet living in an era slightly before Lin Bu.  The poetic lines written by Jiang Wei are as follows (translated version):  The bamboo’s shadows slant across the clear, shallow water; the cassia’s fragrance floats beneath the yellow moon.  The first word in each of the two lines, namely, “bamboo” and “cassia” in the original was changed by Lin Bu into “sparse” and “hidden”.  Lin Bu only changed two words in this stanza, both from noun to adjective, and he was able to demonstrate the beauty and fragrance of the plums.  Today we could no longer find the complete version of Jiang Wei’s poem and only that couplet remains. 
作者:柳宗元   (Author: Liu Zongyuan, late 8th century)
千山鸟飞绝,    Thousand mountain bird fly absolutely
万径人踪灭。    Ten thousand trails man trace extinguish
孤舟蓑笠翁,    lone boat grass coat hat old man
独钓寒江雪        Alone fishing cold river snow


A thousand mountains: no bird flying.
Ten thousand trails: not one traveler’s footprint.
But an old man wearing a grass coat and hat in the snow,   

Fishes from a boat on the cold river.


Translation Notes:   
We make a great, though not always successful, effort to be faithful to the original Chinese by including all images in the poem and not adding any of our own unless we think we must have them to explain a crucial reference to contemporary readers. The results are sometimes awkward as we not only lose the meter and rhyme, but often end up talking about “railings” or “hats” that are not particularly evocative in English. Somewhat wistfully, we compare our translation above to this translation by adel@douban.  The translation was published on douban, a Chinese social media website. 
Not a feather amid the mountains 
Not a soul on the trails 
But an old fisherman in the snow 
Fishing in a drifting boat 



We think that adel’s version is much lovelier than ours and very much has the feeling of an elegant landscape painting. We do not think she took any great liberties by omitting the “thousand” mountains and “ten thousand” trails, as these numbers were really only used as a way of saying “many.” The “not a feather” is a neat way of reproducing a line that says the birds were “absolutely” gone, and “not one soul” is fairly close to the traces of men extinguished. 


In the second couplet, however, adel deviates pretty significantly from the original. She omits the grass coat and hat as well as the cold river. Most importantly, She adds the term “drifting” to describe the boat. The grass coat and hat and the cold river may be seen as superfluous since these clothes are what a fisherman would be expected to wear, and if he’s fishing from a boat in the snow, it’s obvious that he is fishing from a cold river. Even so, inclusion of these terms serves to emphasize the man’s inadequate protection from harsh winter weather. 


The term “drifting” is not suggested by the original at all. It gives a romantic feeling to the poem, but it might not describe the fisherman. If he has gone out in freezing weather to earn a living or get a meal, he is more likely to be picking his spots carefully rather than to be drifting along. We believe that our more literal translation is harsher, colder, more focused on the fisherman’s plight, than adel’s is. If Du Fu, who was a great champion of the poor, had written the poem, our translation would probably be closer to the poet’s intent. As it is, who can tell? The title, River and Snow, suggests that this is primarily a landscape painting, in which case, Adel’s beautiful translation best captures its true spirit. On the other hand, the poem was written after Liu Zongyuan had been sent into exile, and some scholars have theorized that the persevering fisherman was meant to represent the poet himself. Comparing the two translations helps us to think more deeply about the purpose of the poem.