Friday, 2 July 2010

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Tang Dynasty Poem: 回乡偶书 [huí xiāng ǒu shū]


回乡偶书

少 小 离 家 老 大 回,
shào xiǎo lí jiā lǎo dà huí  

乡 音 无 改 鬓 毛 衰。
xiāng yīn wú gǎi bìn máo cuī  

儿 童 相 见 不 相 识,
ér tóng xiāng jiàn bù xiāng shí  

笑 问 客 从 何 处 来。
xiào wèn kè cóng hé chù lái  



Literal Translation:
Youth I was when I left my birthplace, Old I am when I returned,
Hometown accent unchanged, my sideburns grey.
Children saw me, no one knew me,
Smiling politely they asked, "Guest, where do you come from?"

Author:
He Zhizhang (659-744), a poet from the Tang dynasty, who came from today's Zhejiang Xiaoshan region in China.

Modern Translation:
The poet left his birthplace when he was young, and returned in his old age. His hometown accent remained unchanged, but his sideburns had already turned grey.The kids in the street saw him, yet no one knew him. Ironically, they smiled and asked where he came from.

This poem seems plain, but is rich in meaning. The first two lines talked about the poet’s home-coming. The plain recounting of the event contained unspoken and inexpressible excitement and emotion. The poet found himself in a familiar, yet strange environment. As he walked, he sighed, recalling how he had left in his prime, but returned as an old man.The third and fourth line shifted the attention from an emotion-filled self-portrait to a dramatic scene with the children smiling. To the children, it was just a simple innocent question to ask smilingly,”where do you come from?”. However, that simple question became a heavy strike on the poet, as it stirred up his deep emotions and feelings.The poem ended quietly with that question, yet evoked mournful feelings to the utmost. He was being addressed as "guest" in his own hometown. This simple and short poem managed to express and capture the feelings of every wanderer in just a few lines. This is the reason why this poem has stired the hearts of people for thousands of years.

My After-thought:
I have now left Singapore for 9 years.... sigh... perhaps I will have the same feelings when I return to Singapore 30-40 years from now... This poem expresses my heartaches...

Updates:
19 July 2011 - During bedtime this evening for the first time, J (2Y4M14D) could recite almost the whole of this poem. I would say the first 2 words of the line, and he would recite the rest of the line. My Significant Other heard it from downstairs and he came up very excitedly. J repeated it again for my Significant Other. However, he could not quite consistently recite the last line of this poem.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Elaine,
    This is Pamela from Singapore. The group of us students attended fibc the first half of this year! not sure if you rmber but we're back in Singapore now!=) do take care and seeyou back in Sg when you return=)

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  2. We had a really great 5 months in denmark and also worshipping together in FIBC=) Singapore is good, after being away for 5 months, missed it quite abit so i'm glad to be home. the weatherr is not tt great though=P Will say hello to the rest and also, yup, let us know when you come back to sg to visit! would be nice to meet up =D

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