饮酒      Drinking Wine

陶渊明  (Author: Tao Yuanming, 4th century)

结庐在人境, Build hut at man place
而无车马喧。 But no carriage horse noise
问君何能尔? Ask you possible can like this
心远地自偏。 heart far place naturally remote
采菊东篱下, pick chrysanthemum east fence under
悠然见南山。 far leisurely see south mountain
山气日夕佳, mountain air sun set lovely
飞鸟相与还。 fly bird each other and return
此中有真意, this inside have true meaning
欲辨已忘言。 want explain already lost words



I built my hut in a world of men,
But there’s no sound of carriages and horses.

You ask me how this is possible.
When the heart is far away, surroundings become remote.

I pick chrysanthemums by the east fence,
And idly gaze at the southern mountain.

The mountain air is so beautiful at sunset,
As the birds fly home together.

There’s true meaning in this.
I want to explain, but I’ve already forgotten the words.


Translation Notes:

Tao Yuanming is sometimes considered the father of Fields and Gardens poetry, a literature that celebrates contemplative life outside the city walls. Certainly, this poem exemplifies the Field and Garden style. It is set not in the wilderness, but in “the world of men,” yet its subject is natural beauty and contemplation. Much Fields and Gardens poetry is Taoist, and at least one translator has gone so far as to translate the penultimate line as: “Within this natural scene lies the artistic mood necessary for creation, and the real meaning of the Dao.” https://www.learnancientchinesepoetry.org/2016/09/11/tao-yuanming-drinking-wine-no-5/

We translate poetry much more literally than this, but we agree that this line of translation sums up much of the spirit of this poem and of Field and Garden poetry generally. The meaning reflected in the last couplet is very similar to the last couplet of “Painted Zither,” which we have also translated. Both couplets point to the ineffable nature of life.

秋来     The Arrival of Autumn

作者:李贺 (Author: Li He, 9th century)

桐风惊心壮士苦, parasol wind startle heart strong person bitter
衰灯络纬啼寒素。 feeble light cicadas cry cold white/clothes
谁看青简一编书, who read green bamboo slip one compile/volume book
不遣花虫粉空蠹。 no dispatch flower insect powder in vain moth-eaten
思牵今夜肠应直, think of connect today night bowel should straight
雨冷香魂吊书客。 rain cold fragrant soul pay tribute book guest
秋坟鬼唱鲍家诗, autumn tomb ghost sing Bao family poem
恨血千年土中碧。 hatred blood thousand year soil inside green jade



The wind through the parasol trees startles a strong man’s heart,
And makes him bitter.
In the dying candle light, crickets cry out,
Warning us to weave winter clothes.
Oh, who will read this book of poems, written on green bamboo?
And keep the flower moths from turning it to dust?

This night of longing makes my intestines go limp.
But in the cold rain, a fragrant spirit comes to comfort me.
Among the autumn tombs, ghosts sing poems in the style of Bao Zhao.
After a thousand years, the blood of a wronged man
Turns to jade deep in the earth.


Translation Note:

This poem was written in the late Tang Dynasty by a young man who was not allowed to sit for the official government exams because of a naming taboo — the name of the highest degree obtained from the official government exam sounds very similar to the given name of Li’s father. In ancient China, the practice of sons using titles or names similar to their fathers’ would be considered unfilial. Although Li He died at the age of 26, he left behind more than 200 poems, many of which featured ghosts and death.

In the first stanza, the literal translation is that cicadas cry for winter clothes, but we do not believe that Li He was anthropomorphizing crickets; we think he meant that the crickets signified that winter was coming and warm clothes would be needed. Although the mention of intestines becoming straight or limp is not common, Chinese poetry often refers to broken or twisted bowels or intestines to signify a broken heart. In line six, the word “diao”(translated as comfort) is usually used in the context of a living person visiting someone’s grave to pay tribute to the dead. Here Li uses it to refer to the “fragrant spirit” (the dead) coming to comfort him, even though he is still alive. The mention of a wronged man whose blood turned to jade is a reference from the Zhou dynasty which ended more than a thousand years before the poem was written.The “wronged man” was a scholar who was exiled because of a false accusation. After he died, his blood was preserved in a box, and within three years it turned into jade. In ancient Chinese history, the “jade green blood” therefore often refers to someone who sacrificed himself and died for a good cause. Even in modern China, the concept of “jade green blood” is commonly used by writers — for example, Jin Yong, a novelist famous for writing “martial arts and chivalry” novels, wrote a novel in the 1950s named “Bi Xue Jian” (the literal translation of the novel’s name is Jade Blood Sword).

We also attach another version of the translation by Elizabeth Smithrosser: https://www.medievalists.net/2020/08/book-care-medieval-china/

We thought her translation of line three to five of the original is very striking “Who will see to it that the young bamboo is bound together as a book, And not left to the dappled silverfish To chew into holes and dust, Like tonight’s snaking thoughts unravel my innards?”, and that her linkage of the silverfish with Li He’s sad thoughts is not too much of a liberty. We encourage readers to compare other translations with ours.

虞美人   Beautiful Lady Yu

李煜       (Author: Li Yu, 10th century)

春花秋月何时了,           spring flow autumn moon when time end
往事知多少?                past affairs know many a few
小楼昨夜又东风,        small tower yesterday night again east wind
故国不堪回首月明中!past kingdom no bear return head moon bright in

雕阑玉砌应犹在,       carved railing jade stairs should still exist
只是朱颜改。               only is red face change
问君能有几多愁?       ask you can have several many sorrow
恰似一江春水向东流。just similar one river spring water towards east flow



Spring flowers, autumn moon — when will they end?
All those undertakings of the past — who knows how many there were?
Last night the east wind came to my small building again.
In the bright moonlight, I couldn’t bear to look back toward my homeland.

The inlaid ramparts and jade stairs should still be there.
It’s only the beautiful faces that have changed.
I ask you, how much sorrow is possible?
Just as much as a river full of spring water flowing east.


Translation Notes:

The author was the last ruler of the Southern Tang state. After his empire was invaded by the Northern Song armies, he was captured and spent the last couple of years of his life essentially as a prisoner in the North. This poem is said to be the last poem that he wrote, lamenting his miserable life as a prisoner and demonstrating how much he missed his empire/hometown. The historical record indicates that after he wrote this poem and asked some singing girls to chant it, the emperor of the Northern Song Dynasty grew furious and ordered that Li Yu be poisoned to death.

The wind in traditional Chinese thought is seen as a powerful force for change, often heralding the coming of spring. Even the word ‘wind’ has within it the symbol for insect, as it was believed that the wind brought the insects that appear in great number during the spring. In The Song of Weiyang Palace, translated on this site, the blowing wind causes the peach blossoms to open.  In other poems, however, such as Lu You’s Pheonix Hairpin, the wind is bitter and brings tragic change. In Beautiful Lady Yu, the east wind comes to the poet’s small building to remind the poet of his lost and beautiful homeland, triggering unbearable pain.


Chinese poets made frequent allusions to the great works of the past, borrowing symbols, metaphors, and entire lines from well-known poems. The three poems that follow span nearly a thousand years and deliberately repeat the image of a magpie flying beneath the moon.


短歌⾏ Short Song Style 

作者: 曹操 (Author: Cao Cao, 2nd century)

对酒当歌, ⼈⽣⼏何! facing wine should sing, people life several how long
譬如朝露, 去⽇苦多。 similar to morning dew, past day bitter much

慨当以慷, 忧思难忘。 generous should use passionate, worry thoughts difficult forget
何以解忧? 唯有杜康。 what can resolve worry? only there is wine
(According to legend, Du Kang is the first person who made wine)

⻘⻘⼦衿,悠悠我⼼。 blue blue you collar, linger linger my heart
但为君故,沉吟⾄今。 only because of you reason, ponder till today

呦呦⿅鸣,⻝野之苹。 you you(onomatopoeia) deer cry, eat field connection word mugwort
我有嘉宾,⿎瑟吹笙。 I have nice guests, drum zither blow reed pipe

明明如⽉,何时可掇? bright bright similar to moon, when can pick up
忧从中来,不可断绝。 worry from inside come, no can stop absolutely

越陌度阡,枉⽤相存。 transit East-West path pass South-North path, be kind enough to make a journey each other visit
契阔谈䜩,⼼念旧恩。 close distant discuss feasting, heart think of old favor

⽉明星稀,乌鹊南⻜。 moon bright star sparse, black magpie south fly
绕树三匝,何枝可依? circle tree three circle, which branch can rely?

⼭不厌⾼,海不厌深。 mountain not tired of tallness, sea not tired of deepness
周公吐哺,天下归⼼。 the Duke of Zhou spit out food, sky under return (convert) heart


When we have wine before us, we should sing
For who knows how long our lives will be?
Our days are like the morning dew,
It’s bitterness to think how many are gone.

Be passionate. Be generous
When worried thoughts are hard to forget.
All we can do is dissolve them in wine.

Oh, you blue-gowned scholars,
You linger on my heart.
It is only because of you
That I still chant these words.

But the deer call to us from the fields
As they eat the charmed grasses.
I have illustrious guests
Play the drums and zither. Blow the reed pipes!

You are as brilliant as the moon
When can I make you mine?
Worry comes from within
It never fully ends.

Still, every year, people are kind enough
To come from the four corners of the earth to see me.
We talk and feast and remember old favors.
Even after a long parting, we grow close again.

Tonight the moon is bright, the stars are sparse.
And the magpie is flying south.
It circles a tree three times.
Which branch can it rely on?

A mountain will never tire of its height
Nor the ocean tire of its depth.
The Duke of Zhou would spit his food out,
For the chance to greet a scholar.
Everyone under the heavens will learn to believe in me.


Translation Note:
The author of this poem was a brilliant warlord who rose to become a king. He wrote this poem to attract scholars to his newly formed court. He borrows frequently from the Book of Songs, perhaps to connect his upstart rule to China’s sacred traditions. The second stanza comes from a love poem addressed to a lover who wore a blue collar denoting his upper class status. Since “blue collar” has exactly the opposite connotation for American readers, we changed the words to “blue gowned” and added “scholar” to make Cao Cao’s point clear.

We took our greatest liberties with the couplet that follows about the deer in the fields. A more literal translation would be “Yu, yu the deer in the field cry, They eat mugwort,” but we found this literal translation very confusing and out of place. These lines also refer back to a poem from the Book of Songs and are meant to set to convey a bucolic scene with deer eating in the fields in sight or earshot of the people feasting. We created a sense of connection with the deer and nature by having the deer “call to us,” rather than bleat. Since a contemporary reader would have known that mugwort was not just any grass, but an almost magical herb used to ward off both disease and evil spirits, we translated it as “charmed grasses.”

As far as we are aware, the image of the magpie flying beneath the moon and looking for a branch that will be safe to land on is original to Cao Cao. It is arguably the most significant image of the poem as it vividly portrays the plight of the people he is trying to woo, and it is the image that seems to have been most often repeated through the ages.

We added a line in the final stanza “For the chance to greet a scholar.” The original only states that Duke Zhou spit his food out, an allusion that would have been clear to a contemporary reader and utterly confusing to a modern one.


⻦鸣涧   Birds Calling above the Stream

作者: 王维 (Author: Wang Wei, 8th century)

⼈闲桂花落, person idle Osmanthus flower fall
夜静春⼭空。 night quiet spring mountain empty
⽉出惊⼭⻦, moon go out startle mountain bird
时鸣春涧中。 times cry spring brook inside


An idle man, a cassia flower falling
On this peaceful spring night, the mountain is empty.
Even the rising moon startles the mountain birds.
Which call, now and then, above the spring stream.


Translation Notes: 

Wang Wei was a devout Buddhist whose work was often extremely contemplative and peaceful. In addition, this poem was most likely written in Wang Wei’s youth, during one of the most stable and prosperous periods of the Tang Dynasty. For these reasons, we chose to soften the third line a bit by adding the word “even,” and in the fourth line, we translated “times” as “now and then.” The same image which in Cao Cao’s poem shows the danger and insecurity of people who don’t know where they can safely land becomes an idyllic scene in Wei’s poem. The night is so quiet that even the bright moon is startling. However, if Wang Wei had written the poem during the An Lushan rebellion, when he was hiding in the mountains, it would have made more sense to translate the third and fourth lines as “The rising moon startles the mountain birds, which call, again and again, above the spring stream.” Looking into the historical context as well as the author’s other works, helps us to think more deeply about the purpose of the poem.


⻄江⽉ West River Moon

作者:⾟弃疾 (Author: Xin Qiji, 12th century)

明⽉别枝惊鹊  Bright moon slant branch startle magpie
清⻛半夜鸣蝉  clean wind half night sing cicada

稻花⾹⾥说丰年  rice flower scent in say abundant year
听取蛙声⼀⽚      listen get frog sound one piece

七⼋个星天外   seven eight the star sky outside
两三点⾬⼭前   two three drops rain mountain front

旧时茅店社林边   old time thatched store temple woods beside
路转溪桥忽⻅       road turn brook bridge suddenly see


The bright moon, a slanting branch, a startled magpie,
At midnight a fresh wind blows, and cicada sing.

Deep in the scent of rice flowers, there’s talk of a good crop
And the frogs are all croaking together.

Seven or eight stars appear in the distant sky
Two or three rain drops fall in front of the mountain

There’s an old thatched shop by a temple in the woods,
Take a turn in the path, cross the bridge, and suddenly you see it.


Translation Notes:

Because we presented this poem as part of a series of poems which contain images of magpies flying beneath the moon, we felt confident in translating the first line literally, and trusting that the reader would infer that the moon has so startled the magpie that it has flown away. If we had translated this poem without its literary antecedents, we would have written “A moon so bright it startles the magpie/Now only a slanting branch remains.” Our more literal translation of the poem involves the reader more deeply, and it focuses on a very precise instant in time, the fraction of a second that the branch is bent beneath the weight of the departing bird before it springs back again.

Classic Chinese poetry frequently leaves the subject unspecified, forcing the translator to make a decision as to whether the poet is talking about himself or some unnamed person. In the final couplet, we made the somewhat unusual decision to translate in the second person. The poem is so friendly and welcoming that we interpreted the last lines as a series of directions inviting the reader into the village scene.