Recent translations
David Lunde/span>

Words to the Tune
‘Spring in Wu-Ling’
Li Qingzhao 

The wind dies down, the flowers
are all finished blooming,
though the damp earth is still pungent
with fallen petals.
Tiredly, I give my hair
its evening grooming.
His things are still here, but he is gone—
everything has ended.
I want to speak of my grief
but tears wash my words away.

They say that in Twin Streams
spring is still lovely,
and I think about going there
to drift in small boats on the water.

I only fear that these grasshopper boats
that sail upon Twin Streams
cannot support
this burden of sorrow.


NB: This poem was written after the death of her husband.  Twin Streams was a favored
resort of poets during the Tang and Song periods.

The imagery of the first stanza sets the tone with a metaphorical presentation of her loss, and the simple directness of the rest, ending in the image of the boat unable to support her sorrow is powerful. She makes me want to weep with her.

Retirement Benefits
Zhang Yanghao

Removed from office,
I retreat to the country,
abandoning my high ambitions.
Perhaps I am unfit,
lazy, undisciplined, not too bright,
since I didn’t realize until today
that I don’t miss them.
Strolling beside lakes and streams,
sporting in the mountains,
I can go anywhere I like now.
After thirty years of work,
this is what I’ve earned.
These undisciplined mountains
share my retirement plans.

Being retired from my teaching job of 34 years, I share his joy at being free, though I’m afraid that I still have ambitions.


Autumn Thoughts
Zhang Kejiu

At sky’s edge, white geese scrawl characters on cold clouds.
In my green phoenix mirror, a pale, hollow face.
The autumn wind last night blew in gusts of sadness.
I was thinking of you, how long since I’ve seen you.
Singing a melancholy song to myself, I opened my wine jug.
I burned the lamp wick down to a stub,
got half drunk on wine,
that kind of night.

This poem seems amazingly modern, and I love the first line.

Written for Someone
Guan Yunshi (1286-1324 CE)

A flight of geese struggles in
fighting the west wind;
I think of the thousand year tragedy
of the Southern Dynasties.
I spread my elegant writing pad
to record deep thoughts.
I’ve hardly begun
when my brush stops in the air—
my mind gone blank.
Once I could capture time and mood
at one swoop, without error.
Today, weary and miserable,
I have written two vain words
about mutual longing.

We’ve all been here.


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.