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.

访杨云卿淮上别业 Visit Yang Yunqing’s villa by the Huai River

惠崇  (Author: Hui Chong, 10th century)

地近得频到, place close can frequently arrive
相携向野亭。 each other carry go toward wild temple
河分冈势断, river divide mountain tendency break
春入烧痕青。 spring enter burn trace green
望久人收钓, look long time people stop fishing
吟余鹤振翎。 chant after cranes flapping wing
不愁归路晚, not worry return path late
明月上前汀。 bright moon shines on front flat land beside the water



I can come often, to this nearby place,
And walk with you to the wilderness temple.

A river runs between the mountains
And the green grass of spring enters the burned out fields.

The fishermen have all gone home, and still, I’m taking in this view,
After I chanted my last poem, the cranes took flight.

I’m not worried about going home late
The bright moon lights the sandy shore.


Translation Notes:

This poem was written by Hui Chong, a monk in the Northern Song Dynasty who is known for his poems and paintings portraying small landscapes. Chinese poets sometimes borrow symbols and concepts from the great works of the past. This poem and Bai Juyi’s famous poem Grass, which we’ve also translated, both use grass as a symbol of renewal — it returns even after being destroyed by fire. The underlying feelings in the poems are very different, though. Bai’s Grass is vivid and dynamic, and uses the wild grass as a metaphor for his own “unending feelings.” Hui’s poem is tranquil. Instead of projecting his feelings onto nature, he immerses himself so much in the beauty of his surroundings that he didn’t want to return home.

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.