Seeing Meng Haoran Off to Guangling at the Yellow Crane Tower

Li Po

From Yellow Crane Tower you sail
the river west as mist flowers bloom.

A solitary sail, far shadow, green mountains at the empty end of vision.
And now, just the Yangtze River touching the sky.

Tony Barnstone

River Snow

Liu Zongyuan

A thousand mountains. Flying birds vanish.
Ten thousand paths. Human traces erased.
One boat, bamboo hat, bark cape—an old man
alone, angling in the cold river. Snow

Tony Barnstone

Hearing a Song from My Boat

Chang Yu

Where is this beautiful song being sung,
with its short and long notes?
Shore-wind, sand-rain mingling with the sad sound!
There’s no need to hear it at the ends of the earth
to be deeply moved:
I’m only one day away from home, and it’s breaking my heart. 

Jonathan Chaves

Old, and a Fever

Po Ch-ui

I eat up, the hundred feelings vanish,
sip wine, ten thousand worries end,

and knowing we’re all ravaged by age
l’ve grown old without all that worry.

Scholars devoting themselves to office
farmers struggling out in their fields:

how many escape the fevers of grief?
But having only a fever of the body,

I can lie in wind at the north window
or sit beside south pond in moonlight,

take off my crow cap, sun a cold head,
or bathe feverish feet ini clear water.

Passing lazy days propped on pillows,
I rise late, drift nights away in a boat,

come into all this contentment simply
because I’ve stopped longing for more.

David Hinton


Gong to Hsieh’s Lake House by Boat

Yang Wan-li

The wind blows toward the north,
then it shifts to the south.
I blink—and we’ve traveled from the Yellow Fields
to Hsieh’s Lake.
The shadow of a mountain floats past my cabin;
I lift the curtain and see purple cliffs.

I pour two cups of dear wine,
then open my cabin door.
Here are ten thousand wrinkled mountains
that no one ever sees,
the highlights picked out for me by the setting sun.

Jonathan Chaves

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Yuan Mei

I’m not such a goose that I live on the water,—
but day after day light sail slides by the shallows.
Even the reeds know the Great Official’s here.
Following the winds of custom
they see me off
with a boat full of blossoms.

J.P. Seaton


Yuan Mei

Wild confusion, river, sky; ten thousand li of waves,
before one sail is gone another’s come.
My boat is tied at the bank of a small green stream.
Except to pluck the lotus flowers, I never touch an oar.

J.P. Seaton

Waves Sifting Sand

Po Ch-ui

One anchorage of sand appears as another dissolves away,
and one fold of wave ends as another rises. Wave and sand

mingling together day after day, sifting through each other
without cease: they level up mountains and seas in no time.

White waves swell through wide open seas, boundless and beyond
and level sands stretch into the four directions all endless depths:

evenings they dissolve and momings reappear, sifting ever away,
their seasons transforming eastem seas into a field of mulberries.

David Hinton


On the River, I Came Upon Waters Surging Like the Ocean: For Now, I Give This Short Account

Tu Fu

I’m an eccentric sort of person, captivated by fine lines;
until my language is startling, I ‘d sooner die than give up.
As I pass into old age, I throw myself into poems in a really slapdash way-
when spring arrives, the flowers and birds ought not to deeply worry.
I’ve newly added a pier by the water, to serve me as I dangle my fishing line;
remaining from before, my moored raft, to take the place of a boat to ride in.
How can I find an old hand with thoughts like Tao Qian or Xie Lingyun,
to have him compose and take excursions with me?

Zong-qi Cai



Recording My Thoughts While Traveling at Night

Tu Fu

A shore of thin reeds in light wind
a tall boat alone at night
stars hang over the barren land
the moon rises out of the Yangtze
how could writing ever lead to fame
I quit my post due to illness and age
drifting along what am I like
a solitary gull between Heaven and Earth

Red Pine


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.