菩萨蛮.书江西造口壁 (To the Tune “Buddhist Dancers”: Written on the Cliff at Zaokou in Jiangxi Province)

辛弃疾 (Author: Xin Qiji, 12th century)

郁孤台下清江水,Yu Gu Terrance under clear river water
中间多少行人泪。middle among a lot few travel person tears
西北望长安, west north look Chang’an
可怜无数山。 deserve pitiful no count mountain
青山遮不住, green mountain cover no stop
毕竟东流去。 after all east flow go
江晚正愁余, river night just sorrow I
山深闻鹧鸪。 mountain deep hear Partridge



Beneath the Yu Gu Terrace flow the clear waters of the Gan River.
Mingled with the tears of so many who come this way.
I look northwest toward Chang An,
And feel bitterness at the sight of the unending mountains.

But the green mountains can’t stop the rivers.
After all, they flow east.
At night here, on the bank of the Gan, I feel so much sadness.
Deep in the mountains, I hear the partridges crying.


Translation Notes:

The author was famous for his patriotic poems, written during the Southern Song dynasty, a period when China had lost control of the northern part of its empire. The majority of the Song’s royal family had been captured by the northern invaders, though a few, including a former empress, escaped. This poem memorializes a spot where the empress stopped after abandoning her boat. The traveler looks back at Chang An, which was not the capital at that time, but which was a symbol of the past greatness. There is debate as to how the sixth line should be understood since it seems to be saying that the Gan river flows east, when, in fact, it flows north. Some scholars believe that the east-flowing river is a reference to the two great rivers of China, the Yellow River and the Yangtze, both of which flow east. In other words, no matter which way a local river that was the scene of heartbreak and defeat may run, the nation’s two most important rivers still go in the same direction.

The second couplet of the poem was tweaked a bit by contemporary Chinese netizens to satirize a municipal Chinese authority’s censorship towards “negative” COVID lockdown posts. In January this year, authorities in the northwestern Chinese city of Xi’an, which was named Chang An during the Tang Dynasty, imposed harsh COVID lockdown measures that left a lot of city residents with a shortage of food and limited access to necessary medical treatment. With online posts complaining the local government’s COVID lockdown policies going viral on different social media websites, authorities in Xi’an started to ban “negative” COVID lockdown posts on social media. Some creative Chinese netizens, inspired by the second couplet of this poem, changed the last word in the second couplet from “山“ to “删“. The two words are a homophonic pun in Chinese. With the change, the second couplet reads (in Chinese) as followed: “西北望长安,可怜无数删“, and could be translated as “I look northwest toward Chang An.  And feel bitterness that countless posts were deleted”.


松寺        Pine Temple

卢延让    (Author: Lu Yanrang, 10th century)

山寺取凉当夏夜,mountain temple get cold should summer night
共僧蹲坐石阶前。together monk squat sit stone stair in front of
两三条电欲为雨,two three strip lightning about to become rain
七八个星犹在天。7, 8 individual star still exist sky
衣汗稍停床上扇,clothes sweat a little stop bed on fan
茶香时拨涧中泉。tea fragrant sometimes stir mountain brook in stream
通宵听论莲华义, all night hear discuss Buddhism meaning
不藉松窗一觉眠。 not equal to pine window one night sleep



A mountain temple grows a little cooler on a summer night.
I squatted in front of the stairs with a monk.
Until two or three flashes of lightning signaled the coming rain.
Seven or eight stars were left in the sky.

And my clothes were damp from the day’s heat,
I lay in bed, fanning myself and stirring my tea
Its fragrance joined the mountain streams,
The perfume of each stimulating the other.
I listened to talk of the Lotus Sutra until dawn
But even a whole night’s discussion is not worth a good sleep by a pine window.


Translation Notes:

This poem was written by Lu Yanrang, a poet in the late Tang Dynasty. While much of our translation closely follows the literal, word for word language, we expanded the sixth line to try to give a little better sense of what was meant by tea fragrance that stirs the mountain streams. By the Tang dynasty, tea drinking had become very popular in Buddhist monasteries, and the monks participated in the aesthetic appreciation of various teas. Moreover, a Buddhist who achieves virtue is believed to have a “pure nose” which is capable of smelling the good scents of nature even from a great distance. We think that the poet was saying that the essence of the tea became one with the mountain streams and that he could smell and appreciate both as he lay on a bed fanning himself.

Chinese poets sometimes borrow concepts from the works of the past. The second couplet of this poem probably inspired a later poem written by Xin Qiji, which we have also translated. Xin’s poem also portrayed a landscape with the stars appearing in the distant sky until two or three rain drops fall in front of the mountain. Though both poems portrayed a tranquil environment, the second couplet of Lu’s poem emphasizes the unexpectedness of a summer rain — before the flashes of the lightning signaled the coming rain, there were still stars hanging in the sky.

The last couplet of the poem could be translated in two different ways — If we translate the word “藉“ as “think of”, this couplet would mean that the poet was so concentrated on listening to the discussion of the Lotus Sutra that he didn’t even think about going to sleep. “藉“ could also be interpreted as a homophonic pun of the word “及“, which means “come up with” or “be equal to”. We chose the second interpretation as it corresponds more closely to the relaxing and pleasant environment described in this poem.

归园田居·其四    Returning to Dwell in Fields and Gardens, No.4

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

久去山泽游,long leave mountain water/lake travel
浪莽林野娱。unrestrained reckless forest field pleasure
试携子侄辈,for the moment take son nephew generation
披榛步荒墟。break luxuriant grass and wood walk deserted ruins
徘徊丘垄间,wander linger tomb among
依依昔人居。think of past person reside
井灶有遗处,well kitchen have leftover place
桑竹残杇株。mulberry bamboo incomplete scribble trunk of a tree

借问采薪者,borrow ask pick firewood person
此人皆焉如?this person all question word go to
薪者向我言,firewood person towards me say
死没无复余.   die submerge/die no again leftover
一世异朝市,one generation different morning city
此语真不虚。this word really not in vain
人生似幻化,person life similar to magical/unreal change
终当归空无。eventually should return emptiness no



It’s been a long time since I left the court,
To travel among the mountains and lakes,
Free to enjoy myself in forests and fields.
And now I’ve brought the next generation with me,
To blaze trails with axes and walk in deserted ruins.
To wander among the tombs,
And think of the people who lived here before.
We can still see traces of their kitchens and wells.
And what’s left of their mulberry and bamboo groves.

We ask a woodcutter where everyone has gone.
And he tells me they’ve all died.
No one survived.
In one generation, the whole world can change.
Believe me.
A person’s life is an unreal thing, always bound to change.
Eventually, everything returns to emptiness.


Translation Note:

This is a very different sort of Fields and Gardens poem. It has the requisite features: a departure from the busy world of the court to live a contemplative, rural life, an emphasis on a simple, natural setting, and a sense of the ineffable, but it also introduces new elements to considerable effect. Children (“the next generation”) make a rare appearance in a Fields and Gardens poem; although they don’t speak, their presence heightens the poem’s dramatic impact. When the woodcutter says that everyone has died, he introduces the specter of death and eventual “emptiness” not just to a world weary middle aged man, but also to the young and presumably innocent. The result is a much greater sense of vulnerability and loss. In addition, the poet’s primary focus is on the remains of everyday human existence, rather than on natural objects. This choice produces a similar effect; the feeling of loss is immediate, close, and pitiable.

In the last line of the first stanza, the words 残杇株 can be interpreted a number of ways. We believe that within the context of the poem, the words mean “withered tree branches” or “what remained of the trees.” It is significant that the line referencing mulberry and bamboo comes immediately after the traces of wells and kitchens, as mulberry and bamboo are domestic crops used for silk production, food, and construction. We introduced the word “grove” to suggest that these cultivated crops once grew in large numbers and were not random growths. The penultimate line of the second stanza states that a person’s life is “unreal.” Although the word 幻化 also may be translated as “magical,” doing so would have given the impression that life is beautiful or wonderful. The word 幻化 in this poem is used to reference a Buddhist notion of life being insubstantial and illusory. The Eastern Jin dynasty faced constant military threat from the North as well as domestic riots and peasant revolutions. As a result, life was precarious during this period, and there was no safety from attack even in the remote countryside.

秋风辞      Autumn Wind Song

汉武帝 (Author:  Emperor Wu of Han,  2nd century BC)

秋风起兮白云飞, autumn wind rise connection word white cloud fly
草木黄落兮雁南归。grass tree yellow fall connection word geese south return
兰有秀兮菊有芳, orchid have elegant connection word chrysanthemum have fragrance
怀佳人兮不能忘。 think of beautiful woman connection word no can forget
泛楼船兮济汾河, float building ship connection word cross Fen river
横中流兮扬素波。 cross middle flow connection word raise white wave
箫鼓鸣兮发棹歌, bamboo flute drum sound connection word sing paddle song
欢乐极兮哀情多。 happy happy to the extreme connection word sorrow feelings many
少壮几时兮奈老何!young strong how much time connection word deal with old question word



The autumn wind rises and sends white clouds flying
The grass and the trees have yellowed, and the geese flown south.
Orchids and chrysanthemums are fragrant and elegant.
I think of a beautiful woman I will never forget.

As my flagship crosses the Fen river.
We raise white waves navigating the channel.
Flutes and drums sound; the oarsmen burst into song.
Great happiness can lead to great sorrow.
Oh, how much time we had when we were young?
How can we deal with growing old?


Translation note:

This poem was written by Emperor Wu of Han, a brilliant and ambitious emperor of the Han Dynasty. Emperor Wu is known for his military expansion during his reign, as well as his patronage of musical and poetic arts. It is said that he wrote this poem during his 40s, when he travelled to Shanxi province to worship the deity of deep earth and soil. During his trip, he received a message that his army had just won a victory on their mission to conquer the south. This poem was therefore written during a time when his empire was strong and his personal power seemed unlimited. The last sentence of the poem contrasted his seemingly unlimited early power with the fact that he wouldn’t be able to stop time and prevent himself from getting old. That’s probably the reason why he seemed to be abusing his power during his later reign — he put his quest for the elixir of immortality ahead of his subjects’ well being. He even married off one of his daughters to a magician who promised to find the magic elixir. The frustrated emperor later executed his son-in-law for failure to fulfill this promise.

佳人  A Beautiful Woman

杜甫 (Author:  Du Fu, 8th century)

绝代有佳人,absolutely/by all means generation have beautiful person
幽居在空谷。tranquil reside at empty valley
自云良家子,herself say good family daughter
零落依草木。remnant fall lean on grass trees
关中昔丧乱,strategic pass middle past mourning chaos
兄弟遭杀戮。elder brother younger brother suffer kill slay
官高何足论,official rank high how sufficient talk
不得收骨肉。no be able to collect bone fleshes
世情恶衰歇,world feeling evil decline come to an end
万事随转烛。ten thousand things follow rotate candles
夫婿轻薄儿,husband look down upon thin person
新人美如玉。new person beautiful similar to jade
合昏尚知时,close dusk still know time
鸳鸯不独宿。mandarin duck no alone sleep
但见新人笑,only see new person smile
那闻旧人哭。how (question word) hear old person cry
在山泉水清,exist mountain spring water clean
出山泉水浊。go out mountain spring water turbid/muddy
侍婢卖珠回,serve female slave sell jewel return
牵萝补茅屋。lead along rattan repair thatched cottage
摘花不插发,pick flower no insert hair
采柏动盈掬。pick cypress leaf move (here means usually) full bunch
天寒翠袖薄,sky cold green sleeve thin/flimsy
日暮倚修竹.   sun sunset lean on tall bamboo



The most beautiful woman of our time,
Lives alone in a deserted valley.
She told me about her noble birth.
Driven into the wilderness, she had no support but the grass and trees.

When Chang An was invaded,
Both her older and younger brothers were slaughtered.
Their high rank could not protect them.
No one could retrieve their flesh and their bones.

And her whole world fell into ruins.
All of life is as unsubstantial as a flickering candle flame.
Her husband began to despise his fallen wife,
And found a new woman as beautiful as jade.

Even the flowers know to close their petals at dusk,
And the mandarin ducks will not sleep alone.
But her husband can only see his new love smiling.
How can he hear his old wife cry?

Spring water is clean when it’s in the mountain,
It gets muddy when it runs downhill.
When the maid returned from selling her lady’s jewels,
She found the lady using straw to repair the cottage.

The flowers she gathers are not for her hair.
Her arms are filled with cypress leaves.
The sky is cold, and her fine blue gown is flimsy.
The sun sets, and she leans on the tall bamboo.


Translation notes:

This poem is a portrait of a beautiful upper class woman whose birth family was destroyed during the An Lushan rebellion. After the downfall of her family, she was also despised and discarded by her husband, and was driven out to live in the mountain/wilderness. During the Tang Dynasty, it was usually not easy for an upper class man to divorce a wife who belonged to the same social rank. Therefore, what was described in Du Fu’s poem was a reflection of a complete destruction of social order during the An Lushan rebellion.

The poem is not easy to translate, and we had to take a couple liberties. The fourth line, if translated literally, will be something along the line of “lost and fallen, she could only lean on the grass and trees”. Some other translations have translated this line more literally. We felt that the literal translation could be pretty confusing to American readers, and therefore chose to translate it as “she has no support but the grass and trees”. The geographical location in the fifth line, if translated literally, will be “the middle of the strategic pass”. Here, since Du Fu is referring to the capital region, we chose to translate it directly as “Chang An”.

杂诗 Miscellaneous Poem

无名氏 (Author: Anonymous, Tang Dynasty)

近寒食雨草萋萋,close cold food rain grass luxuriant luxuriant
著麦苗风柳映堤。blow wheat seedling wind willow shine embankment
等是有家归未得,equal is have family return not can
杜鹃休向耳边啼。cuckoo no towards ear beside cry



It’s almost Sweep the Graves Day, and the rain has made the grass grow thick.
The wheat seedlings tremble in the wind, and the river mirrors the willow trees.
Why can’t I return to my family?
Cuckoo bird, don’t make your mournful cry where I can hear you.


Translation note:

In the first couplet of the poem, the name of the festival is the “Cold Food Festival,” if translated literally. It is a traditional Chinese holiday which originated from the commemoration of the death of a nobleman during the Spring and Autumn period (around 7th century BC). It gradually evolved into an occasion for the Chinese to worship their ancestors. During the Tang dynasty, ancestral observance became a single-day event that is now the “Sweep the Graves Day,” which is how we translated it. We assume that most American readers wouldn’t know what “Cold Food Festival” is but that “sweep the graves” would convey the meaning. Whether we call it cold food festival or sweep the graves day, it is a time for returning to your home town and being with family.

This poem reflects the nostalgia of a traveler who was unable to return home. The second couplet of the poem was quoted by a Chinese netizen showing her sympathy towards those overseas Chinese who were unable to return to China due to the tough border controls imposed by the Chinese government to deal with COVID.

Since the COVID breakout, it is increasingly difficult for Chinese living abroad to travel to China due to frequent flight cancellations, skyrocketing ticket prices, and the strict pre-departure COVID testing requirements. Some were complaining that nowadays, travelling to China is as if they were purchasing “a lottery ticket”.

游山西村 Traveling to a Village West of the Mountain

陆游 (Author: Lu You, 12th century)

莫笑农家腊酒浑,no laugh farm family winter wine murky
丰年留客足鸡豚。ample year keep guest enough chicken pig/meat
山重水复疑无路,mountain layers water repeat doubt no road
柳暗花明又一村。willow dark flower bright again one village
箫鼓追随春社近,bamboo flute drum chase follow spring sacrifice near
衣冠简朴古风存。clothes hat simple rustic ancient style exist
从今若许闲乘月,From today if allow leisure take advantage of moon
拄杖无时夜叩门。lean on walking stick unscheduled night knock at door



Don’t laugh at the murky winter wine in a farmer’s cottage
In the good years there’s enough chicken and pork for guests

There are so many mountains and with the way the river twists, you think there’s no road
And then, dark willows, bright blossoms, another village appears.

Pipers, drummers, chasing and following each other, the spring sacrifice is near.
Farmers’ straw hats and simple, country clothes, the old way of life is not forgotten.

From now on, please allow me to take advantage of a full moon,
Leaning leisurely on my cane, I’ll knock on your door some evening.


Translation Notes: 

Although this poem is similar to the Field and Garden school of poetry in that it describes a pleasing natural landscape, it is not firmly within the Field and Garden tradition. The emphasis in this poem is on the rural people rather than the rural surroundings, and the overall effect is one of happy engagement rather than contemplative withdrawal. “Traveling to a Village West of the Mountain” is much praised by the communist party because it exalts the everyday life of the working class. The second couplet has long been famous for its encouragement of perseverance toward an uncertain goal. In fact, it is so famous that Secretary Clinton recited it in 2010 during her remarks at the Shanghai World Expo. The translation she used is as follows: “After endless mountains and rivers that leave doubt whether there is a path out, suddenly one encounters the shade of a willow, bright flowers and a lovely village.” We chose to use the second person rather than the third to increase the sense of intimacy. We do not describe the village as lovely since “lovely” is not in the original. Other translations of this poem have been more literal than ours, though, at least with regards to the final line in which they accurately state that the proposed visits are “unscheduled” or “out of time.” We hope that this idea of a spontaneous visit was adequately implied in our version. We felt that words such as “unscheduled” were a little clumsy and out of place in the English version of the poem.

紫毫笔歌  Song of the Purple Writing Brush

白居易      (Author: Bai Juyi, 8th century)

紫毫笔,               purple writing brush
尖如锥兮利如刀。sharp like awl connection word sharp like knife
江南石上有老兔,river south stone on have old rabbit
吃竹饮泉生紫毫。eat bamboo drink spring water grow purple fur
宣城之人采为笔,Xuan city connection word people pick make into brush
千万毛中拣一毫。thousand ten thousand fur among choose one brush
毫虽轻, 功甚重。 hair though light work very heavy
管勒工名充岁贡,tube handle neatly name use as year tribute
君兮臣兮勿轻用。emperor connection word official connection word not easily use
勿轻用,将何如?not easily use shall how? 
愿赐东西府御史,wish give east west official residence enquiry censors
愿颁左右台起居。wish issue left right terrace rise reside
搦管趋入黄金阙,   take hold brush walk into golden imperial city
抽毫立在白玉除。take out brush stand at white jade stairs
臣有奸邪正衙奏,court official have evil heretical upright administrative center report
君有动言直笔书。emperor have move word straightforward brush write
起居郎, 侍御史,  Imperial Secretaries enquiry censors
尔知紫毫不易致。you know purple hair not easy make
每岁宣城进笔时,Every year Xuan city pay tribute brush time
紫毫之价如金贵。purple hair connection word price like gold precious
慎勿空将弹失仪,carefully not in vain use accuse (others) of lose manner
慎勿空将录制词。carefully not in vain record the emperor’s word


These purple calligrapher’s brushes
Sharp as an awl, sharp as a knife

In the south, an old rabbit sits on a stone
Eating bamboo and drinking spring water
The people of Xuan city harvest its purple-tipped fur.
From 10,000 hairs they find one that’s worthy.
They do heavy labor with these light hairs,
And finely carve the handles to use it as yearly tribute.

Oh, emperors and high officials, do not use them carelessly,
I can tell you a better way.
Give them to enquiry censors at the eastern and western imperial houses
Give them to Imperial Secretaries of the left and right terraces.

Take hold of the brush and enter the golden, imperial city.
Hold it aloft and stand before the white jade stairs.
Use it to report to the emperor during court meetings any official who does evil.
Use it to write clearly the edicts of the emperor.

Imperial Secretaries and enquiry censors,
You know these purple brushes are not easy to make.
Every year Xuan city pays tribute with these brushes
These brushes are as costly as gold.

When you use them, be careful not to make false accusations.
Be careful not to mistake the emperor’s words.


Translation notes:

This poem gives us some interesting insight into scholarly and imperial customs. The “four treasures of the study,” that is the paper, block of ink, whetstone for the ink, and the brush, were highly revered, and rabbit fur brushes made in Xuan city were considered so valuable that they were sent to the palace every year in tribute. This purple-tipped rabbit hair brush was used only by the emperor and palace officials. It was so highly associated with the court that when an aristocrat was found to be in possession of such a brush, he and his whole family were put to death. The reason for such a harsh punishment was the belief that the brush could be used to forge imperial decrees and thereby allow its owner to usurp the throne.

The enquiry censors of the eastern and western imperial houses and the imperial secretaries of the right and left terraces were court officials who transcribed the emperor’s words, recorded the functioning of the court, and monitored the behavior of court officials during morning assembles. They were tasked with the important responsibility of ensuring that the court was an example for the rest of the country of upright behavior in accordance with Confucian principles and royal tradition.

The line 搦管趋入黄金阙 (Take hold brush hurry enter golden capital) and the following line 抽毫立在白玉除 (take out brush stand at white jade stairs) can be read both as ordinary lines that advance the overall meaning of the poem, and as an elegant literary tour de force that deserve attention in themselves. In a technique known as parallelism that was commonly employed by classical writers, each word of the first line parallels the corresponding word of the next line by having either a related or opposite meaning. “Take hold” matches “take out.” “Hurry” matches “stand.” “Enter” matches with “at.” “Yellow” matches “white.” “Gold” matches “jade,” and “imperial city” matches “stairs.” We could not replicate this parallelism in English, but we thought that the elevated language of the original at least merited the grandiose word “aloft.”

舟夜书所见    On a Boat at Night Writing About What I Saw

查慎行            (Author: Zha Shenxing, 17th century)

月黑见渔灯, moon dark appear fisherman lantern
孤光一点萤。 alone light one spot firefly
微微风簇浪, tiny tiny wind pile up/make wave
散作满河星。 scatter become filled with river star



Tonight, the moon is dark
A fisherman’s lantern appears.
Its lonely gleam like a firefly.

But when a breeze makes the water ripple
The light scatters
Until the river fills with stars.


Translation Notes:

This poem is written by Zha Shenxing, a Qing Dynasty poet known for portraying natural scenery. It is said that the style of his poems was heavily influenced by Su Shi and Lu You, two famous Song Dynasty poets. The first and the second couplet of this poem form an interesting comparison: In the first couplet, the images are quiet and still, with the gleam from the fisherman’s lantern like a firefly. By contrast, in the second couplet, the images become dynamic when a breeze makes the water ripple. We translated the second couplet with simple languages and took the liberty of adding “the light scatters” to make the meaning clear.

木兰花   Magnolia Flower

晏殊      (Author: Yan Shu, 11th century)

燕鸿过后莺归去, swallow geese pass after orioles return go
细算浮生千万绪。 careful calculation uncertain life thousand ten thousand thread
长于春梦几多时? long compare spring dream several many time
散似秋云无觅处。 scatter similar to autumn wind no find place
闻琴解佩神仙侣, hear zither untie wear deity immortal couple
挽断罗衣留不住。 pull break silk clothes can’t stop leaving
劝君莫作独醒人, advise you not be along awake person
烂醉花间应有数。 exhausted drunk flower among should have count/number



The swallows and the geese have left,
And now the orioles are gone too.
It is so hard to understand this drifting life
With its thousand, ten thousand threads of meaning.

Was my past any longer than a spring-time dream?
It scattered like the autumn clouds. No place to find it.

Hear the zither, untie the goddess’ jewel.
I could clutch her silk clothes until they tore
But I still can’t stop time.

I advise you not to be the only one awake.
Join the rest of us — and drink to oblivion among the flowers.


Translation Notes:

This poem was written by Yan Shu, who was a poet and politician during the Northern Song Dynasty. He was considered a child prodigy, and passed the imperial exam when he was only 14. He rose to high-ranking posts at the court and once served as prime minister to Emperor Renzong. The content of this poem seems to suggest that the poet is lamenting the passage of time and the inevitable parting of lovers. However, this poem was written during a time when the emperor, who was not decisive in character, took advice from Yan Shu’s political rivals, and banished a couple of Yan Shu’s political allies. Considering the time when this poem was written, it is probably a reflection of Yan’s disappointment over the political environment at that time.

The fifth line refers to two Chinese legends. One is about Zhuo Wenjun, a female poet who lived in the Han Dynasty. She heard Sima Xiangru playing the zither when he was a guest at her parents’ home, and she eloped with him afterwards. The second one is about a man who encountered two female deities who untied their jewels and gave them to the man, only to find that both the jewels and the deities disappeared afterwards. In the sixth line, the poem is not specific as to what the poet wishes to stop, but in the context of the first four lines, we thought that “time” probably best expressed his intent. Many Chinese literary critics, however, believe that the sixth line references only the inevitable parting of these idealized lovers.