Tuesday, 17 August 2010


Tang Dynasty Poem: 江雪 [jiāng xuě]


千 山 鸟 飞 绝
qiān shān niǎo fēi jué

万 径 人 踪 灭
wàn jìng rén zōng miè

孤 舟 蓑 笠 翁
gū zhōu suō lì wēng

独 钓 寒 江 雪
dú diào hán jiāng xuě

Literal Translation:
Birds from a thousand mountains flew away,
Footprints from ten thousands of small paths faded away.
A solitary boat, an old fisherman in grass-woven rain coat and hat,
Solitarily fishing in the cold river snow.

This poem was written by a poet called Liu Zongyuan (773-819) from the Tang dynasty, who came from today Shanxi Yongji province in China. He took part in a failed institutional reform movement, was exiled and eventually died in Liuzhou, current day Guangxi. After his death, he was known as the willow of Liuzhou.The poet is a well-known essayist, and is among the 8 most famous writers in the Tang-Song dynasties.

Modern Translation:
The word “绝” means vanish. The word “径” means small path. The word “踪” means footprints. The word “蓑笠” means grass-woven rain coat. With just 20 words, the poet transported us into a scene of a cold and peaceful winter. All the birds have flown away and vanished. All was was seen were innumerable mountains and quietness. The footprints on the numerous small paths were distant and indistinct. Not a single human sight was seen. Admist heavy snow, a solitary old fisherman clad in grass-woven rain coat and hat, fishing alone in the boat on the river. Maybe he did not catch any fish.

What the poet was trying to tell us is no matter how lonely, no matter how harsh, no matter how cruel the environment is, as long as one has faith and perseverance,the hostile environment will not be able to destroy us and bring us down. The old fisherman in the poem is in reality a portrayal of the poet himself. Alone, yet strong; although suffering numerously in exile and suffering from numerously blows, yet he was unyielding and undaunted, maintaining a mental state of calm and steadfastness and single-mindedly sticking to his ideals - fishing. The deep meaning of the poem is worth our deep reflection.

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