Never fear, though it’s not here.
don’t you hum and sigh so,
With the wind, against the wind
we’ll make it home.

Boating at Night on West Lake

Su Tung-p’o

Wild rice stems endless on the vast lake.
Night-blooming lotus perfumes the wind and dew.
Gradually the light of a far temple appears.
When the moon goes black, I watch the lake gleam.

Tony Barnstone

Night on the Great River

Meng Hao-jan

We anchor the boat alongside a hazy island.
As the sun sets I am overwhelmed with nostalgia.
The plain stretches away without limit.
The sky is just above the tree tops.
The river flows quietly by.
The moon comes down amongst men.

Kenneth Rexroth

Stopping at Night at Hsiang-Yin

Ch’i Chi

Wind and waves rising on Lake Tung-t’ing,
the sail’s reflection cast over clear waters:
somewhere a startled swan flies up
as our lone boat chases the moon.
I see so many sites these days where battles raged.
broad-stretching fields but no trace of spring planting.
And what of my km—do they still exist,
and the groves of home near this country town?

Burton Watson

South Point

Wang Wei

I leave South Point, boat light, water
so vast who could reach North Point?
Far shores: I see villagers there beyond
knowing in all this distance, distance.

David Hinton

In the Boat, Three Chueh-chu Expressing My Feelings, To Be Presented to His Excellency the Grand Tutor with a Copy by Letter to the Palace Gentleman Wen Ta-yang

Lu Yu

Rain pelts the lone boat’s awning, wine slowly wears off ;
the fading lamp and I–both of us feeling low.
Fortune and fame never were things to be counted on,
not like the cold river’s two tides each day.

Burton Watson

Aboard a Boat, Reading Yuan Chen’s Poems

Po Ch-ui

I pick up your scroll of poems, read in front of the lamp;
the poems are ended, the lamp gutters, the sky not yet light.
My eyes hurt, I put out the lamp, go on sitting in the dark;
a sound of waves blown up by head winds, sloshing against the boat.

Burton Watson

Drifting Boat

Han Shan

Once at Cold Mountain
troubles cease,
No more tangled
hung-up mind.
I idly scribble poems on the rock cliff,
Taking whatever comes
like a drifting boat.

Gary Snyder

6th Moon, 27th Sun: Sipping Wine at Lake-View Tower

Su Tung-p’o

Setting animals loose-fish and turtles-I’m an exile out here,
but no one owns Waterlilies everywhere blooming, blooming.

This lake pillows mountains, starts them glancing up and down
and my breezy boat wanders free, drifts with an aimless moon.

David Hinton


The Shih Ching , usually translated as either The Book of Songs or the Classic of Poetry, is the first great collection of Chinese poetry. Tradition says that it was edited into its present form by the Sage of Sages, Confucius himself. In fact the book was assembled before, during, and after the life of Confucius. Its more than three hundred poems include fragments of works as old as the Shang Dynasty (traditional; dates 1766-1154 BCE) as well as “contemporary” poems from the Chou feudal states written or spoken by both aristocratic court figures and just plain “folks”. A great deal has been said about the origin of many, if not the majority of the poems as oral “folk” art, but it is clear from the artistry of the written language in which they have been handed down that, like the scribes who improved upon the originally oral poetry attributed to “Homer” in the West to create the Iliad and the Odyssey, the people who converted Chou folk songs and court verses into poetry in written Chinese characters clearly thought of themselves as (and were) artists. So the characters used to render simple and direct lyrical utterances of the illiterate peasant folk often honor them with carefully chosen written vocabulary: the heart and soul of folk art remains clearly present, but literary subtleties are introduced. The scribes who created the Shih Ching were poets, not tape recorders. They chose the best of what existed, and they honored it with their own art.

In its present form, the Shih Ching consists of three major sections, the Kuo Feng, or Odes of the States, comprising 160 of the 300 are generally but not always folk songs. The Ya (Elegant Verses) subdivided with no obvious criteria into greater and lesser, include poems 161-265, and the Sung or Temple Odes high ritual songs and bits of dynastic myth, include poems 266-305. The present selection is comes, all but a single longer poem on drinking and its positive and negative consequences from the “Lesser Elegants”, all come from the Kuo Feng Sections.

Knowledge of the Shih Ching poems was a necessity of diplomatic practice around the time of Confucius, when it was a common practice to deliver or at least support the delivery of diplomatic messages among the feudal domains (the “States or Guo of the Guo Feng) by oral presentation of relevant lines from the Classic. From the Han on many of the poems where imbued with very specific allegorical interpretations, but it is clear that later poets, who memorized the book word for word, used it as allusive material in their own poems at least as often for its plain “folk” messages as for its orthodoxly approved allegorical ones.