Sunday 15 August 2010


Tang Dynasty Poem: 别董大 [bié dǒng dà]


千 里 黄 云 白 日 曛 ,
qiān lǐ huáng yún bái rì xūn

北 风 吹 雁 雪 纷 纷 。
běi fēng chuī yàn xuě fēn fēn

莫 愁 前 路 无 知 己 ,
mò chóu qián lù wú zhī jǐ

天 下 谁 人 不 识 君 。
tiān xià shuí rén bù shí jūn 

Literal Translation:
A thousand miles of grey clouds dimmed the sun,
North wind blowing on the geese and the snowflakes flying.
Worry not the road ahead without a close friend,
For who under heaven would not recognize a fine character.

This poem was written by a Tang dynasty poet called Gao Shi (702-765), who came from Wuzhou Yiwu, located in today’s Hebei Jing County in China. The poet is known to be a character untrammeled by formality and convention, a person who was uninhibited and was not bother about trifles. The poet roamed the earth half his life, and was very familiar with life at the borders.

Modern Translation:
The title of the poem means “Goodbye, Dong Da”. "Dong Da" is the name of a person, in this case, the friend of the poet. “White day” in ancient Chinese is a description of the sun. “Yellow clouds” in ancient Chinese is a description of grey clouds. The word “曛" means dim. The word "君" here means a gentleman, someone of good character, integrity and talent. The first two lines described the harsh and dismal weather conditions. It was a hasty turn between autumn and winter. Layers of grey clouds covered the whole boundless sky. Even the sun seemed dim and dismal, losing its radiance. It was snowing hard and the snowflakes were flying all about. Only the formation of the wild geese flying southwards under the cold blowing north wind was seen. It would have been natural to feel sentimental and sad to part under such bad weather condition, yet the tone of this poem is surprisngly bright and cheerful in the last two lines.

In the last two lines, the poet urged his friend, called Dong Da, not to worry about not being able to find another close friend in the future, for who would not have appreciated the good character of a person such as him. These two lines not only expressed the deep friendship that existed between the two, but it is a high praise by the poet for his close friend’s exemplary character and talent. It is also a sincere wish for the best for his friend’s future. It is a rare ability of the poet to be able to write a parting poem of such upbeatness.

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