Chinese poetry can be divided into three main periods: (1)The early period, characterized by folk songs in simple, repetitive forms; (2) the classical period from the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D.220) to the fall of the Ching Dynasty (1644-1912), in which a number of different forms were developed; and (3) The modern period of westernized free verse.
The majority of the following English translation of ancient Chinese poems are taken from those in Arthur Waley’s “Chinese Poems.” Many of the famous authors are from the Tang Dynasty (A.D.618-907), which was the golden age of Chinese poetry, but authors from other periods are also included.
Author: BAI JU-YI (A.D. 772-846) – He used very simple language and was therefore particularly accessible for the beginner.
Those who speak know nothing; those who know are silent. Those words, I am told, were spoken by Lao-Tzu. If we are to believe that Lao-Tzu, was himself one who knew. How comes it that he wrote a book of five thousand words?
The Bloom Is Not A Bloom
The bloom is not a bloom, the mist not mist. At midnight she comes, and goes again at dawn. She comes like a Spring dream, how long will she stay? She goes like morning cloud, without a trace.
Remembering The South of The River (Jiang-Nan)
The South of the River (Jiang-Nan) is very good. Long ago, I knew the landscape well. At sunrise, the River’s flowers are red like fire. In Spring, the River’s water is green as lilies. How could I not remember the South of the River (Jiang-Nan)?
The pillow’s low, the quilt is warm, and the body smooth and peaceful. Sun shines on the door of the room, the curtain not yet open. Still the youthful taste of Spring remains in the air, often it will come to you even in your sleep.
The grass is spreading out across the plain, each year, it dies, then flourishes again. It’s burnt but not destroyed by prairie fires, when Spring winds blow, they bring it back to life. Its emerald green overruns the ruined town. Again I see my noble friend depart, my heart is filled with parting’s feelings.
Author: CHIEN WEN-TI (The Emperor)
My bed is so empty that I keep on waking up; as the cold increases, the night-wind begins to blow. It rustles the curtains, making a noise like the sea. Oh that those were waves which could carry me back to you.
A beautiful place is the town of Lo-Yang; the big streets are full of Spring light. The ladies go driving out with lutes in their hands; the mulberry girls go out to the fields with their baskets. Golden saddles glint at the horses’ flanks, gauze sleeves brush the green boughs. Racing down, the carriages come home, and the girls with their high baskets full of fruit.
Author: DU FU (A.D. 712-770) – He was widely acknowledged as the finest of the classical Chinese poets. His poems have a particularly sensitive feeling for humanity.
In Late Sun, The River And Hills Are Beautiful
In late sun, the river and hills are beautiful, the Spring breeze bears the fragrance of flowers and grass. The mud has thawed, and swallows fly around, on the warm sand, mandarin ducks are sleeping.
The River’s Blue, The Bird A Perfect White
The river’s blue, the bird a perfect white; the mountain is green with flowers about to blaze. I’ve watched the Spring pass away again, when will I be able to return?
I remember the temple, this route I’ve traveled before. I recall the bridge as I cross it again. It seems the hills and rivers have been waiting. The flowers and willows are selfless now. The field is sleek and vivid; thin mist shines. On soft sand, the sunlight’s color shows it’s late. All the traveler’s sorrow fades away. What’s the better place to rest than this?
Author: DU MU (A.D. 803-852) – He was one of the foremost writers of the late Tang period.
Pure Brightness Festival
At the time of the Pure Brightness Festival, the rain is swirling around. On the road, the mood of the traveler is quite low. He politely asks at what place an inn can be found? A shepherd boy points far away to the Apricot Blossom Village.
Far away on the cold mountain, a stone path slants upwards, in the white clouds is a village, where people have their homes. I stop the carriage, loving the maple wood in the evening, the frosted leaves are redder than the second month’s flowers.
Author: FANG GAN
You Did Not Come
The road is long, and east or west, I have no one to ask. The winter has come, but I’ve no place to send your cold weather colthes. When you left, we’d just planted this tree before the hall, now the tree already bears a nest, but you’ve not returned
Author: FENG MENG-LUNG (C. 1590-1646)
Don’t set sail. The wind is rising and the weather is not too good. Far better come back to my house. If there is anything you want, just tell me. If you are cold, my body is warm. Let us happy together this one night. Tomorrow the wind will have dropped; then you can go, and I shall not worry about you.
Author: FU HSUAN (A.D. 217-278)
A Gentle Wind
A gentle wind fans the calm night; a bright moon shines on the high tower. A voice whispers, but no one answers when I call; a shadow stirs, but no one comes when I beckon. The kitchen-man brings in a dish of bean-leaves; wine is there, but I do not fill my cup. Contentment with poverty is Fortune’s best gift; Riches and Honor are the handmaids of Disaster. Though gold and gems by the world are sought and prized, to me they seem no more than weeds or chaff.
Author: HAN YU (A.D. 768-824) – He was the founder of Neo-Confucianism as well as a poet, and was exiled for his views.
The plants all know that Spring will soon return, all kinds of red and purple contend in beauty. The poplar blossom and elm seeds are not beautiful, they can only fill the sky with flight like snow.
Author: HSIEH TIAO (A.D. 464-499)
Song Of The Men Of Chin-Ling
The South of The River (Jiang-Nan) is a glorious and beautiful land, and Chin-Ling an exalted and kingly province. The green canals of the city twist and coil, and its high towers stretch up and up. Flying gables lean over the bridle-road; drooping willows cover the Royal Aqueduct. Shrill flutes sing by the coach’s awning, and reiterated drums bang near its painted wheels. The names of the deserving shall be presented at the Cloud Terrace; for those who have done valiantly rich reward awaits.
Author: HSU LING (A.D. 507-583)
The Water Of Lung-Tou
The road that I came by mounts eight thousand feet; the river that I crossed hangs a hundred fathoms. The brambles so thick that in summer one cannot pass; the snow so high that in winter one cannot climb. With branches that interlace Lung Valley is dark; against cliffs that tower one’s voice beats and echoes. I turn my head, and it seems only a dream, that I ever lived in the streets of Hsen-Yang.
Author: LAO-TZU – Taoism is a philosophy of simplicity and noninterference. It was founded in the 6th centruy BC by the mystic and philosopher LAO-TZU.
To name the “Tao” is error, “Tao” is the nameless. To change the “Tao” is never, “Tao” is the changeless. He who had spoken, had known it less, and knowing it well, he spoke no more, and this is “Tao”. Look for beauty only in beauty, and ugliness exists, label goodness, and, evil persists. “Tao” speech is silence, go within. “Tao,” is everywhere.
Close your eyes and you will see clearly. Cease to listen and you will hear Truth. Be silent and your heart will sing. Seek no contacts and you will find union. Be still and you will move forward on the tide of the spirit. Be gentle and you will need no strength. Be patient and you will achieve all things. Be humble and you will remain entire. Stop thinking and you will end problems.
Author: LI BAI (A.D. 701-762) – He was the most popular Chinese poet, with a distinctively romantic style.
The autumn air is clear, the autumn moon is bright. Fallen leaves gather and scatter, the jackdaw perches and starts anew. We think of each other, when will we meet? This hour, this night, my feelings are hard.
To Friend Tan-Chiu
My friend is lodging high in the Eastern Range, dearly loving the beauty of valleys and hills. At green Spring he lies in the empty woods, and is still asleep when the sun shines on high. A pine-tree wind dusts his sleeves and coat; a pebbly stream cleans his heart and ears. I envy you, who far from strife and talk, are high-propped on a pillow of blue cloud.
In The Mountains On A Summer Day
Gently I stir a white feather fan, with open shirt sitting in a green wood. I take off my cap and hang it on a jutting stone; a wind from the pine-tree trickles on my bare head.
Clearing At Dawn
The fields are chill, the sparse rain has stopped; the colors of Spring teem on every side. With leaping fish the blue pond is full; with singing thrushes the green boughs droop. The flowers of the field have dabbled their powdered cheeks; the mountain grasses are bent level at the waist. By the bamboo stream the last fragment of cloud blown by the wind slowly scatters away.
Down my bedside a gleam of moonlight strays; I wonder if there’s frost aground or rays. Head up – the silver moon’s so bright to see; head down – deep thoughts of home arise in me.
Sitting by Jing-Ting Hill
All birds have flown up into infinite sky, leaving a lone cloud wandering aimlessly. Who’s here mutually untiresome to see? Surely none but you Jing-Ting Hill and I.
Author: LI HOU-CHU – He was the last Emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty, deposed in A.D. 975)
Immeasurable pain! My dreaming soul last night was king again. As in past days, I wandered through the Palace of Delight, and in my dream, down grassy garden-ways, glided my chariot, smoother than a summer stream. There was moonlight, the trees were blossoming, and a faint wind softened the air of night, for it was Spring.
How Can A Man Escape Life’s Sorrow And Regret?
How can a man escape life’s sorrow and regret? What limit is there to my solitary grief? I returned to my homeland in a dream, as I awakened, I shed two tears. Who will climb up those high towers, I remember those clear autumn scenes. Those past events have lost their meanings, they disappear as in a dream.
How Many Tears
How many tears? Criss-cross your cheeks and run across your face. Don’t try to talk when worry makes you weep, nor play the flute when it will bring you fears, or surely then your heart will break.
Author: LI SHANG-YIN (A.D. 813-858)
Sent To North On A Rainy Night
You ask me what time I’ll return, but I cannot give a time. The rain in the Hills of Ba at night overflows the autumn ponds. When can we trim the candle together by the western window, and talk together of the rain in the Hills of Ba at night?
On Pleasure Height
In late afternoon, for not feeling well, I carriaged up this ancient Pleasure Height. Behold, how glorious is the sun before setting! Much to pity – it’s near twilight and getting dark.
Author: LIU ZONG-YUAN (A.D. 773-819) – He was a Mid-Tang Dynastypolitician and another victim of political intrigues.
A thousand hills, but no birds in flight, ten thousand paths, with no people’s tracks. A lonely boat, a straw-hatted old man, fishing alone in the cold river snow.
River of Snow
Hills and hills mark no birds in flight or float; paths and paths not a single figure show. Old man, straw-cap, leaf-cloak, in little boat: a lonely fisherman in the icy river of snow.
Author: LU YU
Boating In Autumn
Away and away, I sail in my light boat; my heart leaps with a great gust joy. Through the leafless branches I see the temple in the wood, over the dwindling stream the stone bridge towers. Down the grassy lanes sheep and oxen pass; in the misty village cranes and magpies cry.
Author: LU YUN
The Valley Wind
Living in retirement beyond the World, silently enjoying isolation. I pull the rope of my door tighter, and bind firmly this cracked jar. My spirit is tuned to the Spring-season; at the fall of the year there is autumn in my heart. Thus imitating cosmic changes, my cottage becomes an Universe.