A good poem grows with your life experiences. If you just browse it
cursorily, you may not get any taste until you chew and chew. In other words,
you have to reach out to the poem and work to gain the appreciation of its
A good poem invites you to know the poet. If a poem catches your interest,
you will want to search for the poet's other poems. Most likely, you will
appreciate them as well. Every poet has his or her signature style. For example, Ju-yi Bai uses simple language to express his deep feelings; Wei Wang's poetry
is like a picture; The poetry of Chang-qing Liu and Ying-wu Wei is sensitive and
permeated with emotions; Zhen
Yuan expresses the great love between him and his late wife through reflection
on ordinary things. Bai Li said, "Nature inspires me to write." He, Chang-ling
Wang, Mu Du, and Shang-yin Li enhance their descriptions by closely matching the
symbols of surroundings with their themes. The poetry of Shu Si-kong and Lun Lu
excels in selecting the most beautiful perspectives for their topics. Fu Du's
powerful poems show his deep concern with contemporary social problems. In a
sense, a poem is inseparable from the poet and his or her other writings.
Although each poem has its individual meaning, the entire body of a poets work
gives you a better picture of his or her character and philosophy.
A good poem instills life energy into your mind. A poet stores his powerful
life energy in the form of poetry. Each symbol or word describes the theme
gracefully and with strength. The poem may arouse your sympathy, soothe your
frustration, or broaden your vision. The experiences of poets may inspire you to
pursue your life goal, rebound from failure, and gain courage to fight against
evil and hardship. In one word, poetry may guide you to live your life fully and
sing along all the way to the end.
Manhattan, Kansas, October 4th, 2006 Li-Chung Wang
Inscription on the Wall of the Post Station North of Da-yu
Song, Zhi-wen 2 (656-713 CE)
It is said that when south-bound wild geese reach here in October,
They fly no further and return north in Spring 3.
It is still a long way to the place of my exile.
The river is calm after the tide ebbs.
The forest is gloomy and the noxious mist does not dissipate
Tomorrow morning from the place where I will look toward home
I shall be able to see the plum blossoms 6 on the mountain peak.
1 Da-yu Mountain is located in present day Da-you-xian County in Jiangxi
Province. There are many plum trees on the mountain, so it is also known as Plum
Mountain. During Song's time, Da-yu Mountain was a dividing line between
civilization and a primitive region. This is why Song felt so sad about his
2 Shao-lian and Yan-qing were Zhi-wen Song's other first names. Zhi-wen Song
was a native of Fen-zhou City (present day Fen-yang City in Shanxi Province)
during the Tang dynasty. He passed the Advanced Exam in 675 CE. At the peak of
his career, he was the Deputy Minister of Examination Affairs. Later, Emperor
Rui-zong accused him of obsequiously serving Princess Tai-ping (peace) and Yi-zhi
Zhang, the prime minister of the late Empress Ze-tian Wu who usurped the Tang
dynasty. Consequently, the emperor banished Song to Qin-zhou City and later
ordered his death. It can be said that Zhi-wen Song was the victim of a power
3 Song's exile destination was Qin-zhou City (South of Qin-zhou City in
Guangxi Province) near the Southern Sea. Song felt that his situation was worse
than that of a wild goose. He had to travel very far to a primitive land.
Furthermore, he was given no specific date to return.
4 This line and the previous one describe Song's feelings. The previous line
says that the river has a time to be calm, but his agitated thoughts never calm
down. This line says that the noxious vapor, like the melancholy in his mind,
does not dissipate.
5 The next day Song wrote another poem called "Crossing Da-yu Mountain". It
"When I passed through Da-yu Mountain leaving my homeland behind,/ I stopped my
carriage to look toward home."
6 "The plum blossoms" is a double entendre. When Song looked toward home the
next morning, his heart would burst with joy just as blossoms of plum trees
The Song of the Autumn Night
Wang, Wei (700-761 CE)
The soul of the laurel tree 1 started to rise;
The air was cool
Although its light silk was too thin,
She did not change her garment.
Unable to face returning to her empty boudoir,
She continued to play her silver zither 2 long into the dead of
The soul of the laurel tree refers to the moon. In Chinese mythology, there
was a laurel tree on the moon. It was 5000 feet tall. Gang Wu was delinquent
during his pursuit of godhood. God punished him by ordering him to cut down the
laurel tree. He tried to cut it down. However, the trees wounds healed
immediately. This story led later generations to call the moon the laurel tree.
The Canon of History says, "The dark side of the moon was called the soul
of the moon." Consequently, the soul of the laurel tree became another name for
The zither is a string instrument. It has thirteen strings.
Mountain Life at Sunset in Autumn
Wang, Wei 1 (700-761 CE)
On the quiet mountain
The evening chill reveals that autumn is arriving.
The bright moon shines among the pine trees;
The clear spring flows over the stones.
The clamor of voices from the bamboo grove announces the return of the
The lotuses part as the fishing boats pass downstream.
Although the fragrance of Spring is past,
Mountains are a natural place for noble children to reside 2.
Mo-jie was Wei Wang's alternative name. He was a native of Qi City (present
day Qi-xian City in Shanxi Province). In 721 CE, he passed the Advanced Exam.
Later, he took the first place on the Palace Exam. Over the years he was
promoted to the position of supervising censor. When the rebel troops led by Lu-shan
An captured the capital, Chang-an, Wang was given an official post. After the
rebellion was crushed, Wang was demoted to Guardian of the Crown Prince due to
his collaboration with the rebellion. His wife died when he was young, but he
never remarried. In his late years, he resided in Wang-chuan City of Lan-tian
County. He lived in leisure, sometimes as a recluse, occasionally as a
statesman. Chinese poets put him and Hao-ran Meng side by side and call them
"Wang and Meng" because their poems are outstanding representative works of
pastoral poetry. During Wang's early years, he wrote poems about women and
border fortresses. However, his main achievements were his poems about
landscapes, especially mountains and rivers. His poems are peaceful, colorful,
artistic, and real-to-life. They contain many interesting remarks about Zen
philosophy. Through his poetic works, he advocated Buddhism and a life of
seclusion. Therefore, people called him the Buddha of Poetry. Wei Wang forged
poetry, painting and music in one stove with one flame. Dong-po Su praised
Wang's work by saying, "His poems are like paintings and his paintings are like
This line is Wang's response to a statement in the chapter about recruiting
hermits in The History of the State of Chu. The statement says, "Come
back! Noble children! Mountains are not a good place for one to reside long."
During Wang's time the government was corrupt. Even though he was promoted to
Deputy Prime Minister, he was disappointed with the corruption. Therefore, Wang
thought that when the government is not corrupt, hermits should leave the
mountains and serve their community, but when the government is corrupt, it is
appropriate for the hermits to remain in the mountains.
Farewell to Jian Xin 1 at the Lotus Tower
Wang, Chang-ling 3 (?-756 CE?)
A cold torrential rain 4 entered Wu District
At dawn I saw my guest off at lonely 6 Chu Mountain.
If my friends
in Lo-yang City
7 ask about me,
Tell them that my heart is as pure as crystal ice in a jade bottle.
Jian Xin was Chang-ling Wang's friend.
The Lotus Tower was located in Zheng-jiang City (present day
Zheng-jiang-shi City in Jiangsu Province).
The key to understanding the theme of this poem is to grasp the circumstance
of the poet at the time it was written. Chang-ling Wang was an assistant
district magistrate in Jiang-ning City when he wrote this poem. It was after 742
CE. Before this time, he was banished from the position of junior officer in
Si-shui City (present day Chang-gao-xian City in Henan Province) to Ling-nan
Area in 739 CE. Later, he was demoted to assistant district magistrate in
Jiang-ning City. In 748 CE, he was banished again to the more remote and
desolate area near Long-biao City (located southwest of present day Qian-yang
City in Hunan Province). It could be said that Wang suffered many demotions and
banishments and his political career was doomed with frustrations. Fan Yin, a
contemporary of Chang-ling Wang, wrote in his book, The Souls of Heroes in
China, "Chang-ling Wang was a virtuous man indifferent to fame or gain.
During the late years of his life, Wang became careless about small matters. His
enemy used this fact and the fact that he had been sent into exile twice to
foment a slanderous rumor about him." Actually, it was not Chang-ling Wang's
fault, but rather he was too proud to follow the prevailing customs. When Wang
was banished to the desolate area near Long-biao City, Bai Li wrote the
following poem: Poplar flowers have all fallen and goatsuckers cry./ I heard you
had crossed five rivers and reached Long-biao City./ I entrust my care for you
to the bright moon./ My thought of you will follow the wind up to the western
border of the Kingdom of Yie-lang./ The Kingdom of Yie-lang was located west of
Long-biao City. Li's poem showed great sympathy toward Wang's suffering. In this
poem, Wang claimed that he was innocent and asked his friends and relatives not
to believe in rumors.
Shao-bo was Chang-ling Wang's alternate first name. He was a native of Wan-nian
City (present day Xi-an City in Shaanxi Province) of Jing-zhao County. He was an
assistant district magistrate in Jiang-ing City and then a junior officer in
Long-biao City. Consequently, people called him Jiang-ning Wang or Long-biao
Wang. Wang passed the Advanced Exam in 727 CE. He was appointed to the office of
Editor in the Department of Confidential Documents and Official Dispatches and
then was selected as a Great Scholar in the Royal Academy. When Lu-shan An and
Si-ming Shi led a rebellion, Wang took refuge in the area between the Yangtze
River and the Huai River. He was framed and killed by Qiu-xiao Lό
, the Mayor of Hao-zhou City. Chang-ling Wang mastered the Qi-lό
(similar to heptameter) style of poetry. His poems about border fortresses were
vigorous, grandiose, and powerful; his poems on women were refined, beautiful,
and full of passion.
A cold torrential rain symbolizes the destructive power of the rumor.
5 "Wu District" and "Chu Mountain" refer to the area around present day Zheng-jiang-shi City, the capital of Jiangsu Province.
The word "lonely" refers to Wang's isolation and inability to stop the
Lo-yang City was located in present day Henan Province. Chang-ling Wang was
a native of Chang-an City, the capital of the Tang dynasty. Here "Lo-yang City"
refers to Chang-an City, present day Xi-an City of Shaanxi Province. Chang-an
City was the capital of the Western Han dynasty and Lo-yang City was the capital
of the Eastern Han dynasty. Therefore, they could be used interchangeably.
Farewell to Uncle Yun 1 at Xie-tiao Tower in
Xuan-zhou City 2 (753 CE)
Li, Bai (701-62 CE)
That which has abandoned me is the irrevocable past;
That which troubles my mind is the sorrowful present 3.
Long winds escort the autumn geese for a thousand miles 4.
This scene invites us to drink at this tall tower.
Your essays are as broad and profound as those in the classics collected at
Peng-lai Mountain 5
And they are as vigorous and powerful as the Jian-an style of writing
My poetry is elegant, graceful
like that of Tiao Xie.
We are both in a creative mood that inspires our imaginations to fly high
As if we were ascending the blue sky to pluck the bright moon.
I draw a sword and cut the flowing water,
But it only flows more violently 7.
I hold the wine cup to banish my sorrows
But only become more upset.
There is no hope to realize my dreams during my lifetime.
It is better to let my hair loose and float in a flat boat 8.
Yun Li, Bai Li's uncle, was an editor at the Bureau of Archives.
Xie-tiao Tower was built by poet and mayor Tiao Xie of Xuan-zhou City in
the Kingdom of Southern Qi around 500 CE. A person's name in China is pronounced
last name first, the first name second. Xuan-zhou City is now called
Xuan-cheng-xian City and is located in Anhui Province.
Bai Li was banished from the emperor's court by corrupt influential officials
in 744 CE. This poem expressed his pent-up emotions. He had the talent to save
the corrupt government, but he had no opportunity to use it.
3 "That which troubles my mind" refers to the conflict between his ambitions
and his frustrations rather than sorrow due to his separation from his uncle.
This line not only refers to the fact that Bai Li saw his uncle off, but
also naturally and elegantly suggests that his passion escorts his lofty
aspirations. As one sees one's guest off, one usually escorts the guest for a
It was said that Peng-lai Mountain was a heavenly mountain where gods
collected secret records and classical books. Chinese scholars often referred to
the library in the Eastern Palace as Peng-lai Mountain. The people of the Tang
dynasty frequently used Peng-lai Mountain to represent the Bureau of Archives.
6 "The Jian-an style of writing" refers to the writing style established and
promoted by Prime Minister Cao Cao, his sons, and the Seven Great Writers during
the Jian-an Period (196-219 CE).
This line and the previous one say that he cannot separate himself from the
frustrations pursuing him.
At first glance, this line seems to say that Li tried to avoid reality by
living in seclusion. In fact, it is intended to convey that Li protested the
corruption that emerged after state power fell to crafty sycophants.
Climbing the Shu Mountain Path is Difficult
Li, Bai 1 (701-762 CE)
Alas! The Shu Mountain Path is high and dangerous.
Climbing the Shu Mountain Path is as difficult as ascending to the blue sky.
The founding of the State of Shu by Can-cong and Yu-fu is lost in time.
Shu has had no contact with the State of Qin for the last 48,000 years
Even though they are neighboring countries.
Only birds can cross over E-mei Peak 2
By passing over Tai-bai Mountain 3 on Qin's western border.
Only after the ground collapsed, mountains were destroyed, and the Muscular
Men 4 died,
Did a stone path, steep as a scaling ladder, connect Shu and Qin.
Above the path is a high beacon 5 that even the suns chariot,
drawn by six dragons 6, has to circle around.
Below the path is a winding river whose waves surge, clash, and churn at its
Even yellow cranes 7 are unable to pass over the peak.
Apes 8 that wish to cross don't, because they worry about scaling
Why does the path on Qing-ni 9 Mountain coil so much?
It circles the rocky mountain and turns many times every hundred steps.
Looking up at Orion and Gemini 10, I hold my breath and try to
Beating my chest in frustration, I sit down with a deep sigh.
When will you return from traveling westward?
The dangerous path and precipitous rocks are not scalable.
All I see are sad birds crying among ancient trees.
Male birds, followed by females, swirl around the woods.
I also hear cuckoos 11 weeping beneath the night moon.
The empty mountain is filled with sorrow.
Climbing the Shu Mountain Path is as difficult as ascending to the blue sky.
If one hears these words, one's face will turn pale.
Less than a foot separates the series of peaks from the sky.
Withered pine trees hang upside down and lean on a precipice.
The flying rapids and the waterfall compete for percussion.
When the rapids strike rocks, the sound reverberates like thunder in many
Given the danger, why do you come here from afar?
The rocky summits near Jian-ge Pass 12 are steep and lofty.
One man garrisons the pass.
Ten thousand men cannot enter 13.
If the defender is not trustworthy,
He can be as harmful as jackals and wolves.
One who lives here must avoid fierce tigers
And long snakes
They sharpen their fangs, suck blood, and kill countless people.
Although Jing-cheng City 14 is a paradise,
I would rather hurry home.
Climbing the Shu Mountain Path is as difficult as ascending to the blue sky.
I turn sideways, look west, and heave a long sigh.
1 After Zhi-zhang He, a contemporary dignitary, read this poem, he admired
Lis talent so much that he praised him as a god exiled to earth. This story led
later generations to call Li "the God of Chinese Poetry".
2 E-mei Peak is in present day Sichuan Province.
3 Tai-bai Mountain is located southeast of present day Mei-xian City in
4 The chapter titled "The Mythology of Shu" in The History of the State of
Hua-yang says, "The King of the State of Qin married five beautiful young
women to the King of Shu. The latter king sent five muscular men to welcome
them. On their way back, when they arrived at Zi-tong County they saw a huge
snake slither into a cave. The five muscular men grabbed its tail and pulled it
out. As a result, the mountain collapsed, and all the people were crushed and
killed. The originally tall mountain turned into five smaller mountains."
5 "The high beacon" refers to the highest summit of the mountain range.
6 According to Chinese mythology, the sun's driver, Xi-he, travels in the sky
riding a chariot drawn by six dragons.
7 Yellow cranes are supposed to be good at high flight.
8 Apes are supposed to be good at climbing mountains.
9 "Qing" means green and "ni" means mud.
10 The ancient Chinese astronomers mapped the stars in the sky to certain
regions in China. Shu corresponded to Orion and Qin corresponded to Gemini.
11 It was said that the soul of Yu Du, the last king of Shu, became a cuckoo
after he died. Its voice was sad and seemed to say, "Bu-ru-gui-qu (would rather
12 Jian-ge ("Jian" means sword; "ge" means tower) Pass was located north of Jian-ge County and between Da-jian
("da" means large) Mountain and Xiao-jian ("xiao"
means small) Mountain.
13 This line says that if the government were to fail to use the right
people, they might dare to rebel if they were to possess this pass. The mistake
could result in an enormous disaster. This poem was written before the decline
of the Tang dynasty. Thus, these two lines indicate that Li cares about state
affairs, has the foresight to see the danger of inappropriate appointments, and
is providing a warning to the government.
14 Jing-cheng City is now called Cheng-du City, the capital of Sichuan
Long Pole Village 1
Cui, Hao (704?-754 CE)
Where do you live?
I live by Heng Pond.
I am stopping my boat for a while
To ask you if we live in the same village.
My home faces the Yangtze River.
I come and go along the riverside.
We may both live in Long Pole Village,
But I have never seen you before in my life.
There are many stormy waves downstream.
I find that the lotus boats 2 are becoming scarce.
I am asking for your help
Because I cannot fight against the torrent by myself on my way home.
The tidal current of the river is fierce.
The stormy waves of the Five Lakes surge 3.
I understand a flower's fragility 4,
But do not fear
The rhythm and the theme of this poem are derived from an ancient anonymous
poem, "Long Pole Village":
(A woman speaks)
"Due to the upstream current, I invite my girl friends.
My lotus boat does not fear the rocking.
I live by the Yangtze River.
We are going to play in the surf in Yang City."
(Yang City , a beautiful
city, is currently located in Jiang-du County in Jiangsu Province.)
The ancient poem describes the bravery of women. The man in Cui's poem
encourages the woman to be brave and independent.
A lotus boat refers to a boat operated by a woman.
These two lines imply that people's gossip is powerful enough to damage their
reputations. The Five Lakes refer to China's Five Great Lakes: Dongting, Taihu,
Boyang, Hongze, and Chaohu.
This line says that the woman is not brave and does not show enough concern
for social propriety.
Saying Good-bye to the Tomb of Fang 1
Du, Fu (712-770 CE)
Leaving Lang City to resume my office 2,
I stop my horse and say good-bye to the lonely grave.
My tears dampen the soil nearby.
Dark clouds linger around the low sky.
I used to play Go 3 with Prime Minister Xie
Now I bring my sword to seek Mr. Hsu 5.
All I find are the fallen leaves
All I hear is the orioles' song of farewell.
In 755 CE, General An fomented a rebellion against Emperor Ming. The
emperor fled to Shu, allowing his son, Su, to declare himself emperor. Su
appointed Fang as his Prime Minister. In 757 CE, Fang was demoted to Mayor of
Bin City because the imperial troops lost a battle to the rebellion. Fu Du wrote
a letter to Emperor Su, opposing Fang's demotion. Du's letter offended the
emperor and Du was almost sentenced to death. In 763 CE, Fang was promoted to
Minister of Justice. On his way to assume office, he died from a disease in a
monastery at the age of 67. Fang was buried in Lang City.
Fu Du worked for General Wu Yan, the Commander guarding the State of Shu.
In April 762 CE, Emperor Su died and Di inherited the throne. In June, General
Yan was summoned to the capital and assigned to the emperor's court. Rebel
General Hsu occupied Cheng Du, a city in Shu. Du fled to Zi City and later to
Lang City. In Spring 764 CE, General Yan was reassigned to guard Shu. Du
planned to leave Lang City to work again for General Yan. Before he left the
city, he visited Fangs tomb.
Go is a Chinese game similar in complexity to chess.
The Biography of An Xie says, "After General Xuan Xie of the Jin
dynasty defeated the enemy, which was twenty times larger than his army, he
reported the victory to Prime Minister Xie. When the messenger brought the
document to the Prime Minister, Xie was playing Go with his guest. After reading
the news, he put the document aside without showing any excitement and continued
to finish his game as usual." Here Du compares Prime Minister Xie to Fang.
The chapter titled "The Biography of Ji-Zha Wu" in the book Chinese
History says, " Ji-Zha Wu was sent on a mission to a northern neighboring
country. He stopped by Mr. Hsu's house. Hsu loved Wu's sword, but he did not
dare to say so. Wu could tell what was in Hsu's mind. However, he wanted to use
his sword for ceremonial purposes, so he did not give it to Hsu. After Wu
finished his mission, he revisited Hsu. But Hsu had died before he arrived.
Therefore, Wu hung his sword on a tree near Hsu's tomb and left." Here Du
compares himself to Ji-Zha Wu.
Soldiers and Chariots 1
Du, Fu (712-770 CE)
The chariots rumble,
The horses neigh,
The soldiers march forward with their bows and arrows hanging at their
Their wives and parents rush to see them off.
The dust obscures the Xian-yang Bridge.
Relatives clutch at the clothes of the soldiers,
Stamp their feet in anger, and cry, blocking the road.
The sad cries shoot skyward and pierce the clouds.
A passerby asks the members of the procession what is happening.
They hurriedly reply that the government drafts soldiers too often.
Some soldiers have been stationed north of the Yellow River since the age of
After they reach forty,
They will be sent to the western border to cultivate wasteland.
When they left their hometown,
The head of the village helped them wrap their hair with handkerchiefs
Even after they return home white-haired,
They still cannot avoid being sent back to defend the frontiers.
The border has become a sea of blood,
But the emperor's desire to expand China's territory is insatiable.
Thousands of fields are abandoned to weeds and briers.
The grain grows disorderly in the field
Even though there are sturdy women able to hoe and plow.
The soldiers stationed at the Middle Wall 3 can bear hardship and
They are driven abusively like dogs or chickens.
Even if one inquires about their welfare with concern,
How dare these slave soldiers complain?
This winter there is still no relief for the soldiers stationed at the West
Mayors urgently press for payment of taxes.
From what resources can a family pay its taxes? 5
People feel doomed when they have sons.
Parents prefer to have daughters instead
Because after they marry, they can still be neighbors.
A son will be killed on the battlefield and later buried in weeds.
Look at the shore along Lake Qing-hai 6.
Since ancient times, the white bones of soldiers have not been buried.
The new ghosts cry out and the old ghosts weep.
The howl of ghosts is intermittently heard on cloudy, rainy days.
This poem, written in 751 CE, was Du's first that addressed contemporary
social problems. Later generations honored this type of poem by referring to
them as poetic history. After 741 CE, in order to expand China's territory
toward the west, the emperors of the Tang dynasty started many wars. However, it
turned out that China lost almost every war and 20,000 Chinese soldiers were
killed. To replace the dead soldiers, Prime Minister Guo-zhong Yang ordered
governors to arbitrarily arrest people on the streets, shackle them, and then
send them to army camps. This was the reason people protested the emperor's
tyranny. Du blamed the government's aggression for the people's great suffering.
His strong concern about the country's social problems demonstrates that his
poetic style of realism had reached maturity.
This was because they were too young.
The Middle Wall is the short name for the middle part of the Great Wall.
The West Wall is the short name for the western part of the Great Wall.
A family cannot pay its tax because there are no men to tend the fields.
Lake Qing-hai (green sea) is an inland sea in Qinghai Province.
Giving My Daughter Away to the Yang Family 1
Wei, Ying-wu 2 (737-792 CE?)
I was sorrowful all day.
Even when I took a walk outdoors,
My sadness remained.
You are going to travel a long distance to be married.
Your light boat will go up a mighty river.
Unfortunately, you and your sister are motherless 3.
As I recall the past,
I wish I could have loved you more.
You have had to raise your sister.
When you parted,
You both cried endlessly.
When I saw you cry I was heartbroken.
However, for your happiness I cannot ask you to stay.
You have lacked a mothers guidance since you were little,
So I worry whether you can serve your mother-in-law properly.
Fortunately, you are entrusted to a kind family.
I hope that your mother-in-law will treat you well
Frugality should be promoted,
So why do you need a rich dowry 4?
Respect your in-laws and observe a woman's proper conduct.
Your appearance and demeanor should follow the customs of propriety.
We must part this morning.
In what year will I see you again?
I used to be able to master my feelings,
But when we must part my feelings suddenly overwhelm me.
As I return home and see your little sister,
My tears stream down along the strings of my hat.
1 Chinese people regard marriage as one of the most important events in one's
life. This poem reveals a father's view about his daughter's wedding. The video,
shows how a Chinese girl prepares her wedding. The video,
is entitled "Entering the Bridal Sedan Chair".
1 Ying-wu Wei was a native of Wan-nian City (present day Xi-an City of
Shaanxi Province) of Jing-zhao County. He was a descendent of Xiong Wei, the
Carefree Duke of the Zhou dynasty. Dai-jia fathered Ling-yi; Ling-yi fathered
Luan; Luan fathered Ying-wu. In 751 CE, Ying-wu Wei was appointed to San-wei-lang
(Imperial Guardian) in the emperor's court. During the Yong-tai Period, he was
appointed as Assistant Magistrate of Lo-yang District and then as an official at Jing-zhao County. He managed state affairs with integrity. In 779 CE, he was
transferred from Mayor of Hu-xian City to Mayor of Li-yang City. He declined the
transfer with the excuse of illness. In 781 CE, he was transferred from Counsel
on the Board of Examination Affairs to Mayor of Chu-zhou City and then
reappointed as Mayor of Jiang-zhou City. Soon after the emperor's court ordered
him to go to the palace and appointed him as a senior secretary of Zuo-si (left
department). During the early Zhen-yuan Period, Wei was appointed as Mayor of
Su-zhou City. This seems to have been his last government position.
"A Banquet with Local Writers in the Lobby of the City Hall as the Rain
Falls" written by Ying-wu Wei says,
"The entrances of the magnificent City Hall are closely guarded;
Fragrance fills the guest room.
As the wind and rain from the sea arrives,
The pool and the hall are cool and guests become carefree.
My annoying illness has recently disappeared.
Guests of honor fill the lobby again.
I am ashamed of assuming a high position
Because I have not yet improved people's well-being.
Wisdom solves disputes;
Looking on the bright side of things eliminates one's unnecessary burdens.
Meat and fish are no longer popular;
Fruits and vegetables are fresh and tasty.
Looking down, I drink a cup of wine.
Looking up, I listen to beautiful poems.
I feel weightless when I am happy.
I wish I could ride the wind and fly.
History and literature have flourished in the Central Region of Wu District.
The talent of my guests is like a sea of treasures.
I finally realize that the treasure of Wu District is not limited to its
Wei was noble and fond of cleanliness. He liked to light incense and sweep
the immediate area before he sat down. Only outstanding poets such as Kuang Gu,
Chang-qing Liu, Dan Qiu, Ran Jiao were extended the honor of being invited to
Wei's home to write poems with him. A letter that Tai-zhen Liu wrote to Wei
said, "Kuang Gu visited me and showed me your poem, 'A Banquet in the Lobby of
the City Hall'. How expressive, vigorous, and refined it is! During the Song
(420-479) and Qi (479-502) dynasties, Ling-yun Xie (385-443), Yue Shen
(441-513), Yun Wu; Xun He (?-535) were able to master expressing their thoughts.
Although they could follow their feelings and express their profound
experiences, their poems were disconnected from the legacy of Chinese classics.
You are the only poet who is able to control your thoughts with the ancient
style. Those who master The Book of Poetry in its entirety will find that
your poems carry on the traditions of classical Chinese poetry."
Wei mastered writing verses with five characters to a line. His poetry was as
simple and elegant as Qian Tao's. Most of his poems described pastoral features
of landscapes. In Ju-yi Bai's letter to Jiu Yuan, Bai praised Wei's poetry by
writing, "Wei's poetry is simple and elegant. He has his own style."
3 Wei wrote a poem to mourn his wife when she died. It says,
"My little children knew what they had lost./ They clutched at my clothing as
4 This shows that Ying-wu Wei was an honest and upright government official.
He did not use his position to take bribes.
Four Songs at the Foot of the Great Wall
Lu, Lun 1 (737?-799 CE?)
The arrows in the general's quiver are strengthened with vulture quills at
A embroidered flag with a swallowtail streamer flutters beside him.
The general stands tall to announce his new orders.
All the soldiers in the camp hail him in one voice.
The forest is dark and the grass trembles in the wind.
The general draws his bow at night
For he thinks he sees a tiger blocking the path.
At dawn he searches for his arrow
And discovers it stuck in the crevice of a stone.
The moonlight is dim and wild geese fly high.
The King of Huns flees under the cover of night.
The general resolves to lead his cavalry to capture him
Even though heavy snow covers his troops' bows and swords.
A banquet is served in the wilderness camp.
The border tribes have come to congratulate the general on his triumph.
In spirits high from drink,
He dances with his swords
The thundering drum beats shake the mountains and rivers.
Yun-yan was Lun Lu's alternate first name. His family was an eminent clan
in Fan-yang City (present day Zhuo-zhou City in Hebei Province) in Jun-wang
County. His ancestral home was in Pu-zhou City (west of present day Yong-ji City
in Shanxi Province) of He-zhong County. Between the end of the Tian-bao Period
and the beginning of the Da-li Period Lun Lu failed the Advanced Exam many
times. Due to Prime Minister Jin Wang's recommendation, he was appointed as a
junior officer at Wen-xiang City. Later, he passed the Advanced Exam during the
late Da-li Period and became a judge in a marshal's headquarters. At the peak of
his career, he was a senior secretary of the Finance and Revenue Department. He, Zhong-fu Ji, Hong Han, Qi Qian, Shu Si-kong, Fa Miao, Tong Cui, Wei Geng, Shen
Xia-hou and Duan Li are honored as the Ten Gifted Poets of the Da-li Period. He
wrote many "farewell" poems. Some of his poems reflected the nature of military
life. He was good at telling stories through his poetry. He was adept at writing
in many poetic styles. His ancient style was imposing; his contemporary styles, Lό -shi (stanza of eight lines with certain
rules about rhymes, tones and antitheses) and Jue-ju (Chinese poem with four
lines to a stanza, each consisting of five or seven characters), were refined,
lucid and lively.
During Emperor De-zong's reign, Qu-mou Wei, the brother of Lu's mother,
recommended Lu's talent. Consequently, the emperor often summoned Lu to his
home. Whenever the emperor wrote a poem, Lu would responded to it by writing a
similar one. One day the emperor asked Qu-mou, "Where are Lun Lu and Yi Li?" Qu-mou replied,
"Lun Lu followed Zhen Hun to He-zong City." The emperor sent a
messenger to summon Lu to the palace. Soon after Lun Lu died. Emperor Wen-zong
loved to read Lun Lu's poems. The emperor asked Prime Minister De-yu Li, "Does
the imperial library collect Lun Lus writings? Did Lun Lu have sons?" Li
answered, "Lun Lu had four sons. They all have passed the Advanced Exams and
work in the cabinet." The emperor sent people to Lun Lu's home to search for his
writings. They found about five hundred of his poems.
Farewell to Duan Li
Lu, Lun (737?-799? CE)
The grass withers everywhere in our home town,
So it is all the more disheartening as we part.
Your journey goes beyond the distant cold clouds.
After seeing you off,
I will return home to evening snow.
led a vagrant life in childhood.
In view of the hardships I have suffered,
I wish we could have become friends earlier.
Gazing down the road where I last saw you,
I cover my face to conceal my tears.
Seeing the wind-blown dust in your wake,
I wonder if we will ever meet again.
The Song of a Traveling Son
Meng, Jiao 1 (751-814 CE)
Thread in the hands of a loving mother
Becomes traveling clothes for her son's long journey.
She sews with tight stitches right before he departs
For she worries that his return might be late Ύ
How can one say that the heart of a short blade of grass
Can repay the gift of Spring sunshine?
1 Xing Li recommended Jiao Meng to Jian-feng Zhang, the Mayor of Xu-zhou
City, by saying, "Jiao Meng masters writing verses with five characters to a
line. His poems combine the merits of those of Du-wei Li and Shu-guo Su of the
early Han dynasty, the Seven Talented Poets of the Jian-an Period, as well as
Ling-yun Xie and Dao-yun Xie of the Southern dynasties." Yu Han wrote, "Jiao Meng is so poor that he cannot afford to provide for his parents. He has
traveled all over China, but has been unable to find a job that can utilize his
talents. He wrote, 'The coarse vegetables I eat cause my stomach suffering./ I
force myself to sing,/ But my song is full of sad tunes./ As soon as I go out,/
I encounter obstacles./ Who says that the world is wide?' This poem clearly
shows the extent of his frustration. In general, sages are proud of themselves.
They do not associate themselves with a corrupt society. This is why one may see
them but cannot recognize their talents. If one sees a sage but cannot recognize
his talents, the result is the same as not seeing him. If one recognizes the
sage's talents but fails to offer him a position, the result is the same as not
recognizing his talents. If one offers the sage a position but fails to fully
utilize his talents, the result is the same as not offering him a position. If
one fully utilizes the sage's talents but allows others to slander him, the
result is the same as not fully utilizing his talents." Yu Han developed this
amazing theory of recruiting talent by analyzing Jiao Meng's frustrations.
Dong-ye was Jiao Meng's alternate first name. He was a native of Wu-kang City
(present day De-qing City in Zhejiang Province) in Hu-zhou County. He lived in
seclusion on Song Mountain in his early youth. In 796 CE, he passed the Advanced
Exam at the age of forty-five. Later, he was appointed as a junior officer at
Li-yang-xian City. He was poor and suffered frustration all his life. Most of
his poems expressed sentimentality about his own experiences regarding his
suffering and were filled with a poverty-stricken tone.
Night Mooring at the Maple Bridge 1
Zhang, Ji 2 (fl. 740-780 CE)
The moon set, ravens crowed,
And the frost swept all over the sky.
Facing the red maple trees and fishermen's fires
I was inflamed with worry 3 and could not sleep.
Bell tolls 4 from Han-shan Temple
5 outside Gu-su City
Reached our passenger boat at midnight.
1 The Maple Bridge was located in the Feng-qiao Borough, outside Chang Gate
of Su-zhou City. The bridge is six miles from downtown Su-zhou City. One may
to learn how this poem is sung by local musicians. In this video, a man and a
woman sing in a local dialect. After every half line the man sings, the woman
repeats his words with a different tune. For the last half line in a stanza,
they sing together. Their song is full of local flavor. This video is a good
example of how we should popularize poetry: How do we add accompanying
background music to make a poem more interesting and more closely related to our
2 Yi-sun was Ji Zhangs alternate first name. His ancestral home was in
Xiang-zhou City (present day Xiang-yang City in Hubei Province). His family was
an eminent clan in Nan-yang City (in present day Henan Province). He passed the
Advanced Exam during the Tian-bao Period. He was the minister overseeing
sacrificial rites and then a judge in charge of the affairs concerning salt and
iron in Hong-zhou City. Most of his poems were his travel notes written in a
simple style. Zhong-wu Gao said, "Ji Zhang was from a
family that produced poets generations after generations. He clearly inherited
the talents of his ancestors. His poems are simple and natural without
ornamentation. They give readers a lingering appeal as though they were written
by a philosopher. His description of an event is concise but thorough; his
analysis is to the point."
3 "Worry" is often explained as the feeling of homesickness. It can also
refer to the various problems of life in general.
4 In Zen philosophy, a sudden beautiful thing, such as the tolling of a bell,
is known to bring inspiration or epiphany.
5 Han-shan Temple was located one mile west of the Maple Bridge. The temple
was first built during the Southern Liang dynasty. Poet Monks Han-shan and
Shi-de lived here. This was how the temple gained its name. It was destroyed by
the flames of war many times. The current temple was rebuilt at the end of the
6 Gu-su City is another name for Su-zhou City. The city was so named because
Gu-su Mountain was located southwest of Su-zhou City.
The Song of Stone Drums 1
Han, Yu 2 (768-825 CE)
Mr. Zhang 3 showed me a book, imprinted from the stone drums,
And persuaded me to write a song about them.
Poets no longer live near the Young Tomb 4;
The exiled god 5 is deceased.
Lacking talent as I do,
How can I succeed in writing such a poem?
In the middle of the Zhou dynasty
Law and discipline of the government were in decline.
China heaved in turmoil like a raging sea.
Emperor Xuan-wang rose, brandishing his lance,
And led his troops to crush the rebellion.
He opened his palace to celebrate his triumph.
All the kings and dukes came to congratulate him.
The party was so crowded that the swords hanging from the guests' waists
clashed against each other.
In Spring, the emperor and his retinue rode horses south of Qi Mountain.
They hunted and captured all the birds and animals in this area.
To show their great achievement to later generations,
They shaped the huge stones on a tall mountain into drums.
All the officials in the emperor's court were talented.
Emperor Xuan-wang chose their best writings,
Had them carved on these stones,
And left the drums on the mountain.
Although drenched in rain, roasted by the sun, and burned by wild fires,
The engravings have remained in good condition.
Perhaps the patron god has protected them against evil spirits.
I wonder how such a complete copy was made with nothing lost.
Refined rhetoric and profound meaning make it difficult to understand its
The form of the characters does not resemble the Jailer
Tadpole 7 form.
The passage of many years has caused the sculpted writings to lose a stroke
Even the character missing a stroke is as full of life
As a dragon whose tail has been freshly slashed by a swift sword.
Each character is as graceful as a goddess
Riding a phoenix and drifting down to the earth.
The calligraphy is as lively and graceful as coral or a green tree
Whose branches intertwine with each other.
The handwriting is vigorous;
The analysis is rigorous
As if the argument were as strong as a gold rope or an iron chain.
The calligraphy is as grandiose and unpredictable as a shuttle that becomes a
Or the water splashing when a huge caldron is dropped into the river.
It is deplorable that the shallow scholars failed to include the drum
When they compiled The Book of Poetry.
This omission makes it appear
That Major Grace and Minor Grace 9 were compiled
from narrow resources.
Confucius traveled to every country in China to collect historical material,
But his westward trip did not reach the State of Qin 10.
Although he gathered all the stars in the sky,
He left out the sun and the moon.
What a pity that I who love ancient culture was born too late to be able to
Facing such precious writing,
I am tearful, overwhelmed by emotion.
I recall when I was appointed as a member of the Royal Academy
In the year the Yuan-he Period 11 began.
A friend of mine, the secretary of a commander,
Managed to excavate the buried stone drums for me.
I washed my hat and took a bath
Before I went to the Director 12 of the Academy for help
And told him how truly rare this treasure was.
Had the stone drums been wrapped with blankets or straw mats,
It would have taken only a few camels to carry them to the palace.
Had we put them in the royal temple alongside the worshipping caldron,
They would have been valued a hundred times more than the caldron.
Had the emperor allowed them to be preserved in the Imperial University,
The lecturers could have done research on these stone drums
And the students could have studied the findings of their teachers.
In the Han dynasty,
Even a library with ordinary books attracted crowds of book lovers daily.
Such precious writing would surely have drawn the entire nation to rush to
We could have removed the moss on the drums to show the beautiful strokes of
We could have leveled and stabilized them to prevent accidental damage.
Had we put them in a high-rise with protruding eaves,
We could have provided the drums with lasting protection much earlier.
However, all the officials in the emperor's court cared only about their
None of them had the vision and enthusiasm to react quickly enough to rescue
Now shepherd boys use them to strike a fire
And cattle use them to sharpen their horns.
Scorched by the sun and eroded by the wind,
These stone drums will soon deteriorate to a complete ruin.
I have looked to the west and lamented in vain for six years.
Xi-zhi Wang sought the beauty in calligraphy.
Even a few pages of his handwriting could win white geese in return
Eight dynasties have passed since the storm drums were erected.
Each dynasty rose from a new war.
But alas! Even though China is at peace now,
Still no one has proposed to preserve these drums.
The government's education emphasizes only Confucianism,
So how can I persuade the emperor to preserve these stone drums?
I wish I could be as eloquent as a waterfall.
My poem about the stone drums stops here
Because no one will listen
No matter how hard I try to persuade them.
In the beginning of the Tang dynasty, ten stone drums were discovered in
present day Feng-xiang-xian City in Shaanxi Province. There was a poem inscribed
on each stone drum. Yu Han wrote this poem in 811 CE. He recognized the
historical value of the stone drums and stressed the importance of preserving
them. The engravings on the stone drums are Chinas oldest sculpted writing on
stones. Yu Han thought the characters were of the form used in the Zhou dynasty.
However, recent research has shown that they were of the form used in the Qin
Tui-zi was Yu Han's other first name. He was a native of Nan-yang City
(present day Meng-xian City of Henan Province). His ancestors used to live in
Chang-li City (west of present day Xu-shui-xian City in Hebei Province), so he
called himself "Yu Han from Chang-li City". When he was three, his parents died.
His brothers wife raised him. He studied hard during his early years and
mastered the Six Classics and various schools of philosophy. In 792 CE, he
passed the Advanced Exam. At the peak of his career, he was the Minister of the
Civil Service. He was given the posthumous name "Wen" (literature) by the
In the early Tang dynasty, writers loved to write essays in poetry form. Han
advocated that an essay must have a virtuous theme and tried to revolutionize
literature by reverting to an ancient style. He also advocated for replacing the
contemporary essays written in poetry form with prose. Han's views on literature
greatly affected the literature of both his contemporaries and later
generations. Anthologists of later generations collected the essays of Yu Han, Zong-yuan Liu, Xiu Ou-yang, Gong Zeng, An-shi Wang, Xun Su, Shi Su, and Che Su
as exemplary essays for literature students, and called the above eight
essayists the Eight Masters of Literature During the Tang and Song dynasties. Yu
Han was ranked first.
Dong-po Su commented on Yu Han's writing: "Chinese literature
had been lifeless for eight dynasties until Han published his essays. Han
proposed that an essay must have a virtuous theme. His effort in promoting
virtue guided China along a vigorous and prosperous track."
Tu Si-kong said, "In order to determine the purity of gold, it is sufficient to
test it with a bell or a chime. If it is pure gold, it will ring melodiously for
both. Similarly, from a poem or an essay one may tell the writer's talent and
taste. No writers master one style but not the other. I observe that when one
writes a poem or an essay, one typically bases it on one's expertise first.
Through comprehensive reading and study, one gradually masters a new style and
eventually achieves great accomplishments. A talented writer is like a man of
unusual strength who can defeat his enemy no matter what weapon he uses. I have
read a hundred of Yu Han's poems. His drive and spirit, like thunder and
lightning, shook the world. Anyone who read his writings will be affected by
their power and lingering appeal."
Shi Huang-fu wrote the epitaph for Yu Han's tomb. It says, "In September
824CE Yu Han resigned his position as the Minister of Civil Service due to his
illness. He wrote to me, 'Death makes me work hard on what may last after I die.
I will entrust my work to you.' Then he died in January 825 CE. [Ό
] Yu Han was a sixth-generation descendent of the An-huan King of the Late Wei
dynasty. Rei-su, the Secretary of Gui-Zhou City, fathered Zhong-qing; Zhong-qing
fathered Yu. Yu Han loved to study. He wrote essays when he was seven. He
indulged his passion in promoting sages' legacy during his early twenties. At
first, people ignored him. Later, his writings shook the field of literature and
his accomplishments illuminated China. Government officials were amazed by his
explosive influence and tried to push him aside. Yu Han endured hardship and
frustrations and worked hard in promoting virtue. One cannot classify his
writings into a single style because he was a versatile writer. However, all of
his writings were refined. Yu Han focused on the essence of Chinese classics,
led Chinese literature to the virtuous track, and united with other writers to
promote Confucianism. He mastered both classics and contemporary literature. His
ability to think and write fast, his vigorous poetry, and his powerful words
would burst forth as long as there was a writing brush in his hand. It will be
difficult for future generations to surpass him. Yu Han has been the greatest
writer in China since the Zhou dynasty. Since he passed the Advanced Exam, he
has been appointed to twenty-seven government positions: censor, minister,
senior secretary, and member of the Legislative Bureau. Yu Han suffered three
demotions because when he attempted to improve the government, the authority
considered his advice damaging to the government's reputation. [Ό
] When Yuan-ji Wu rebelled, the emperor sent troops to crush his army. However,
the government's attempt to quell the rebellion had been to no avail for a long
time. The war depleted the nation's treasury and everyone lived in fear. At that
time Yu Han was in charge of defense affairs under Prime Minister Du Pei. When
the prime minister's troops left Tong-guan Pass, Yu Han volunteered to go to Bian-liang City in advance to persuade the enemy commander to surrender. Yu
Han's success prevented a civil war and led to the capture of Yuan-ji Wu. Later,
Ting-cou Wang rebelled and attacked Yuan-yi Niu at Shen City. One hundred
thousand relief troops hesitated, stalled, and lacked courage to advance to his
rescue. Emperor Mu-zong asked the court officials to go to the rebel camp to
persuade them to surrender. All the officials, except one, trembled and excused
themselves from the task. Yu Han bravely took up the perilous mission. Yuan Zhen
advised the emperor, "It would be deplorable if the rebels killed Yu Han." (In
785 CE, Zhen-qing Yan, the Minister of Punishment and a famous calligrapher, was
killed when he went to an enemy camp to summon the rebels to surrender.) Emperor
Mu-zong regretted his decision and hurriedly sent a messenger to order that Yu
Han find a safe place for negotiation. Yu Han said, "The emperor's message has
showed his benevolence, but death is my unshirkable duty." Consequently, he went
directly to the enemy camp and rebuked the rebels. The rebels were astonished.
They released Yuan-yi Niu, knelt in front of Yu Han and admitted their mistakes.
In The Spring and Autumn Annals, Confucius praised Sun-chen Zang for
using his possessions to buy grain from the State of Qi and then using the grain
to give relief to famine victims. If one compares this event with Yu Hans
story, one may easily tell whose task is more difficult. It can be said that Yu
Han was an exemplar of court officials. Soon after Yu Han became the mayor of
the national capital. He saved money by reducing the number of imperial guards
and used it to buy grain for the victims of drought. During his government he
dulled the edges of evil officials swords. Then he became the Minister of Civil
Service again. [Ό ] Yu Han was hospitable, optimistic
and broad-minded. If his relatives or friends could not support themselves, he
would help them with food, clothing, and money for their weddings and funerals.
He never separated himself from books. When he slept, he used them as a pillow.
When he ate, he used them to promote his appetite. He prepared his lectures
industriously while he taught at the Imperial University. He often used humor
and songs to entertain his students and thus intoxicated them with the grandeur
of virtue. His students were so interested his lectures that they often forgot
to return home. Alas! It can be said that Yu Han was an easygoing gentleman and
"Mr. Zhang" refers to Che Zhang, a disciple of Yu Han. According to others,
"Mr. Zhang" refers to Ji Zhang.
Fu Du, a great Chinese poet, used to live in the neighborhood of the Young
Tomb. After the rebel troops stormed and captured the capital and Emperor
Xuan-zong fled, Du called himself the Old Adherent of the Young Tomb to signify
his loyalty to the emperor. The Young Tomb was the tomb of Queen Xu, the wife of
Emperor Xuan-di of the Han dynasty.
The exiled god refers to Poet Bai Li.
The form of characters used in the Qin dynasty made them difficult to
write. When imprisoned for his crime, Miao Cheng of the Qin dynasty created this
more convenient form for jailers who needed to write official documents.
The Tadpole form is the form of Chinese characters used in the Zhou
It was said that one day during the Jin dynasty, the child Kan Tao went
fishing at Thunder Pond. He caught a weaving shuttle. After returning home, he
hung it on the wall. Before long, there was a thunderstorm. The shuttle suddenly
became a dragon and flew away. Here the shuttle describes the unpredictable
transformations of the words used.
Major Grace and Minor Grace were two major poetry books in
The stone drums were discovered in a location that had belonged to the
territory of the State of Qin during the Warring States Period.
11 "Yuan" means perfect; "he" means
harmony. "Yuan-he" was Emperor Xian-zong's reign title during the Tang dynasty.
The title of the Director of the Royal Academy is "Libationer", but his duty
was to oversee the Royal Academy.
Xi-zhi Wang was the father of Chinese calligraphy. It is said that he copied
Dao-de-jing (the Bible of Taoism) for a Taoist priest. The priest rewarded him
with a cage of geese.
Bai, Ju-yi 2 (772-846 CE)
The luxuriant grass spreads across the prairie
It withers and flourishes once a year.
Prairie fires can never destroy it completely;
It grows again as the Spring winds blow.
Its fragrance extends to the distant ancient road;
Its bright greenness nestles by the ruins of an old city.
I see another noble friend off
The lush grass waves as though saying an emotional farewell.
1 This poem describes the great strength of grass' life cycle. It shows that
nature continues to produce without resting. It also reveals that grass connects
people in different spaces and time.
2 Le-tian was Ju-yi Bai's alternative first name. In his late years, he
called himself "Xiang-shan (fragrant mountain) Ju-shi (the Buddhist laity)" or
"Zui-yin (improvise poetry when intoxicated) Xiang-sheng (mister)". His
ancestral home was in Xia-gui City (present Wei-nan City in Shaanxi Province).
His family was an eminent clan in Tai-yuan City (in present Shanxi Province).
After he died, the emperor honored him by giving him a posthumous name "Wen
(writer)". Therefore, later generations called him "Bai-wen-gong ('gong' means duke)". Bai
passed the Advanced Exam in 800 CE. He was given the position of Editor in the
Department of Confidential Documents and Official Dispatches. Later, he was an
advisor and then the Official Promoting Virtue. Because he offended influential
officials, he was demoted to the position of official in charge of military
affairs in Jiang-zhou City. In the beginning of the Chang-qing Period, he was
the Mayor of Hang-zhou City. In the beginning of the Bao-li Period, he was the
Mayor of Su-zhou City. Later, he was appointed as the Minister of Punishments.
Bai was a great poet, essayist, and literary theorist. He promoted a new
style of poetry and argued that poetry should continue the legacy of the
Bible of Poetry: beautiful and sharp. His poetry bravely revealed the dark
side of society and featured simple language. Whenever Bai completed a poem, he
would go to the countryside to find a common old woman or a young child, and
then read his poem to them. If they could not understand the poem, he would
revise it until they could. His practice of using simple language made his poems
The Song of Endless Sorrow 1
Bai, Ju-yi 2 (772-846 CE)
Lecherous Emperor Xuan-zong of the Tang dynasty desired a woman of matchless
Though he had searched for many years,
He had not met his ideal woman during his reign.
Raised and hidden away in a deep boudoir,
The girl of the Yang family had just come of age,
But no one ever noticed her.
With her innate beauty, she had high ambition for herself.
As expected, one day she was chosen to wait on the emperor.
How charming she was when she glanced back with a smile.
All the royal concubines paled in comparison.
On a cold day in Spring,
The emperor invited her to take her bath in the Fresh Flower Pool.
After bathing in the slippery hot spring,
Her skin shone like cream.
The maids supported her because her fragility made her appear to lack in
It was at this moment that the emperor began to become infatuated with her.
Her hair was like clouds,
Her face was like a flower,
And her gold earrings dangled with her steps.
She spent Spring nights with the emperor behind the bed curtain embroidered
A night was too short for them;
They slept until noon.
From then on, the emperor no longer attended the dawn audiences.
She was his favorite and stayed busy waiting on his every whim.
During the day, they went on playful excursions;
During the night, the emperor stayed only in Yu-huan's room.
Of 3,000 royal concubines only she enjoyed his love.
Having made herself ready in her gold chamber,
Yu-huan waited for the emperor to spend the night.
After a banquet in a magnificent tower, the flavor of wine mixed with
Subsequently, all her sisters and brothers were appointed to advanced ranks.
The entire nation admired the glory of the Yang family.
Parents in China changed their minds
And preferred to have daughters rather than sons.
The top of the Fresh Flower Palace on Li Mountain pierced the clouds.
Its heavenly music drifted with the wind and could be heard everywhere.
The emperor never experienced enough of her light songs and slow dances
accompanied by music
Even though he watched her perform all day.
Suddenly, the earth-shaking war drums 3 of rebel troops closed in
on the capital.
The beating drums stopped the Dance of Flying Rainbow-Colored Cloth 4
taking place in the palace.
The emperors team of horses stirred up a dust storm in the capital.
Thousands of troops escorted the emperor as he fled south-westerly.
But ten miles into their flight,
The swaying flag decorated with jade and feathers suddenly stopped its
The troops refused to move
And forced the beauty of the beauties, Yu-huan, to kill herself as they
Her feather headdress, gold birds, and jade hairpin fell to the ground,
But no one collected her jewelry.
The emperor covered his face, unable to save her.
As he glanced back, his tears fell, mingled with blood.
The bleak and chilly wind scattered yellow dust in the air.
The troops circled around the mountain path above the clouds
And finally ascended to Jian-ge Pass 5, their haven.
With few people traveling at the foot of the E-Mei Mountain,
The emperors flag lost its luster and the sun looked pale.
The Shu 6 River was green, as were the Mountains of Shu Range.
The verdant color caused the emperor to miss Yu-huan day and night.
When he saw the moon in his temporary palace,
Its color filled his heart with sorrow.
The tinkling of harness bells broke his heart during rainy nights.
After the situation improved, the emperor began his return to the capital.
When he passed by the Horse Hillside 7,
He lingered, reluctant to leave.
In this barren site, he could no longer see his beautiful love.
The emperor and his entourage looked at each other and were tearful.
When approaching the gate of the capital,
The lotus flowers in Tai-yi Pool 8 and the willow trees in
Wei-yang Palace remained the same.
The lotus flowers were like her face;
The willow branches were like her eyebrows.
Facing such a scene, how could he stop his tears from falling?
Perhaps he could have endured his sorrow in the spring wind,
But it was difficult for him to pass the night
With the leaves of phoenix trees falling in the autumn rain.
Autumn grass grows thickly around the Western Palace 9 and Nan-nei
No one had swept away the red maple leaves covering the steps leading to the
The hair of those who used to sing and dance with Yu-huan had turned white.
The royal concubines had become old.
At night, the miserable emperor, surrounded by fireflies, thought quietly in
He could not fall asleep even after the wick of a solitary lamp had gone.
The night went so slowly that the night watchman's bell and drum seemed to
Galaxies faded away in the gradually brightened sky as dawn drew near.
The Yuan-yang 11 shingles were cold and covered with heavy frost.
Who would share his cold, emerald-colored quilt with him?
Many years had passed since Yu-huan's death,
But her soul had never visited the emperor's dreams.
One day a Taoist conjurer from Lin-yong City 12 visited the
He could conjure the soul of the deceased through piety.
Moved by the emperor's sleepless longing for Yu-huan,
The conjurer strove to find her soul.
He mounted the clouds and rode the wind with lightning speed
And searched everywhere by ascending to the sky and descending to the earth.
Blue sky and underground water were boundless;
He could not find her in either expanse.
By chance he heard there was a heavenly mountain on the sea.
The mountain was located among the sea of imaginary clouds.
He found an exquisite tower surrounded by colorful clouds.
There were many graceful goddesses in the tower.
One of them was called Yu-huan.
Her snow-like skin and flower-like face were reminiscent of the real person.
The conjurer knocked on the jade door of the room in the west wing
And then asked a maid to announce his arrival to Yu-huan.
When the maid informed her that the emperor's messenger had arrived,
Yu-huan startled from her dream.
She pushed aside her pillow, picked up her clothing,
Rose from her bed, and began to pace back and forth.
Her hair was tousled by sleep.
Leaving her room even without straightening her hat,
She passed through many beaded curtains and screened-off rooms.
When the wind blew, her wide sleeves billowed upward.
This made it appear as though she was again performing the Dance of Flying
Her lonesome face, covered with tears, was like a peach flower after a spring
Swallowing her tears with deep affection,
She asked the conjurer to thank the emperor for seeking her.
Since she and the emperor had departed,
Their voices and countenances had quickly faded from each others memory,
After their love in the Palace of Bright Sun 13 ended,
The days in heaven seemed endless to Yu-huan.
She turned her head and looked down towards the earth.
The capital of China was obscured by mist and dust.
She felt that the only way to express her deep love was to send back her
wedding ring in its case.
She split both the ring and its case into two parts.
The emperor and she would each keep half a ring and half a case.
She hoped their love would endure as long as the gold ring.
She felt they would eventually meet someday
Even though they were separated by the distance between heaven and earth.
Before she parted with the conjurer,
She reminded him again and again to send her message to the emperor.
The message contained a secret oath between only the emperor and her.
Years ago, on the night of the seventh day of the seventh month 14,
They made this oath in the Palace of Eternal Life while alone:
"In the sky, we wish to be a pair of birds that fly together;
On the earth, we wish to be the branches that intertwine with each other."
The size of the universe and the life of earth are limited,
But the emperor's sorrow, like time itself, can never end.
1 This poem describes the love between Emperor Xuan-zong of the Tang dynasty
and his consort, Yu-huan (jade bracelet) Yang. Her beauty was so mesmerizing
that the emperor no longer paid attention to state affairs. Consequently, the
government became corrupt. One day, the rebel troops attacked the capital and
the emperor fled. Ten miles into his flight, his escort of troops refused to
move. There was a standoff between the emperor and his troops. Six generals
demanded that the emperor sentence Yu-huan to death. In their opinion it was she
who had ruined the nation. Reluctantly, Emperor Xuan-zong ordered her to commit
suicide. After she died, the emperor missed her very much and lamented the fate
that had separated him from his love.
2 Le-tian was Ju-yi Bai's alternate first name. In his late years, he called
himself "Xiang-shan (fragrant mountain) Ju-shi (the Buddhist laity)" or "Zui-yin
(improvise poetry when intoxicated) Xiang-sheng (mister)". His ancestral home
was in Xia-gui City (present Wei-nan City in Shaanxi Province). His family was
an eminent clan in Tai-yuan City (in present Shanxi Province). After he died,
the emperor honored him by giving him a posthumous name "Wen (writer)".
Therefore, later generations called him "Bai-wen-gong (mister)". Bai passed the
Advanced Exam in 800 CE. He was given the position of Editor in the Department
of Confidential Documents and Official Dispatches. Later, he was an advisor and
then the Official Promoting Virtue. Because he offended influential officials,
he was demoted to the position of official in charge of military affairs in
Jiang-zhou City. In the beginning of the Chang-qing Period, he was the Mayor of
Hang-zhou City. In the beginning of the Bao-li Period, he was the Mayor of
Su-zhou City. Later, he was appointed as the Minister of Punishments.
Bai was a great poet, essayist, and literary theorist. He promoted a new
style of poetry and argued that poetry should continue the legacy of The Book
of Poetry: beautiful and sharp. His poetry bravely revealed the dark side of
society and featured simple language. Whenever Bai completed a poem, he would go
to the countryside to find a common old woman or a young child, and then read
his poem to them. If they could not understand the poem, he would revise it
until they could. His practice of using simple language made his poems very
Ju-yi Bai wrote a preface to his poetry book, The Lo River. It
says, "I read classical and contemporary poetry. [Ό ]
I observe that poems are born of banishment, exile, cold, hunger, illness,
separation, old age, and death. Poets wrote poems to express their feelings.
Consequently, nine out of ten Chinese poems are sentimental. It seems that most
writers are unfortunate. Especially, talented poets die young. Clearly, peaceful
eras are few and troubled times are abundant. I am not eloquent, but I love to
write poems and essays. From my youth to the present, I have written several
thousand poems. [Ό ] Although I am over sixty, I am
still healthy. The salary of my position frees me from cold and hunger. [Ό
] From Spring 829 to Summer 834, I lived near the Lo River. During this period,
I wrote four hundred and thirty-two poems. With the exception of the more than
ten dirges for my son, the rest of my poems were written while I drank wine or
listened to music. I lived in leisure and fully enjoyed life. I did not write a
single word of anguish or heave a single sigh. When I am happy, I cannot pretend
I am not. My happiness is rooted in being content with what I have. Being
provided for and living leisurely expand my happiness which is expressed through
wine and music and decorated with mountains, rivers, breezes, and the moon. If
this cannot make me happy, where should I find my happiness? [Ό
] I wrote these poems to show posterity not only that there was a happy and
easygoing old man who lived in Dong-du (east-capital) City but also that there
were poems representing peace and prosperity during the Da-he Period."
Ju-yi Bai wrote to Zhen Yuan, "The six classics are the most important books
in Chinese literature. The Book of Poetry is the most important volume in
the six classics. Why? These poems are the vehicle that sages use to touch ones
heartstrings in order to promote peace in this world. In order to touch ones
heartstrings, a poet must have passion and refine his rhetoric; a poem must
sound melodious and contain profound meanings. The root of poetry is its
passion; the seedling is its rhetoric; the blossoms are its sound; the fruits
are its meaning. From sages to idiots, small animals like fish or pigs, mythical
figures like gods or ghosts, they all possess energy even though they belong to
different kinds; they all possess feelings even though they have different
appearances. All of them respond to the sound that reaches them. Their feelings
respond to the passion that touches their heartstrings. Sages understand this
principle. Consequently, when they write essays, they use the six classics as
their model. When they write poems, they apply music rules to make their poems
sound melodious. Sound has rhyming schemes and themes of poetry can be
classified into the types of virtue contained in the six classics. If the
rhyming scheme is harmonious, a line will flow smoothly. If a line flows
smoothly, the readers will be attracted to the poem. If the theme of a poem
matches any type of virtue contained in the six classics, then the ready-made
phrases contained in the classics may help the poet fully express his passion.
If a poem is full of passion, it will easily touch a readers heartstrings. If
poetry contains profound meanings refined with delicacy and subtlety, then it
will endow the society with spirit and harmony, and guide the entire nation
toward a promising future through its sadness and happiness. [Ό
"Since the office of collecting poems was eliminated by the government during
the Qin dynasty, the government has failed to use poetry to examine its policy
and people have failed to use poetry to express their needs. Consequently, the
government has become corrupt and has lacked means for improvement. [Ό
] I lament the collapse of Chinese poetry. Because of my disappointment I strive
to turn the tide despite my lack of talents. Sometimes I even forget to eat
regularly and sleep at night. Alas! I must tell you how frustrated I have been:
When I was six or seven months old, my nanny carried me to a screen decorated
with calligraphical work. She taught me two characters on the screen: Wu (none)
and Zi (word). I could not speak, but I memorized them in my heart. Later,
people put these two characters in front of me, said a word, and asked me to
point to the character that they just said. They tested me a hundred times, but
I never failed a single test. This showed that my destiny was to be a poet. When
I was five, I learned to write poems. When I was seven, I mastered rhyming
schemes. When I was fifteen, I learned that passing the Advanced Exam is a great
honor. Consequently, I persevered in study despite my adverse circumstances.
Since I was twenty, I have studied classical poetry during the day, read books
at night, and studied contemporary poetry in between. Therefore, my tongue and
mouth became sore; my hands and elbows became callused. Even when I reached
adulthood, I appeared very thin. Before I became old, my teeth and hair started
to decay. I cannot see well either. I pity myself because all these symptoms
resulted from my dedication to studying and writing. [Ό
] Since I worked for the government, I have become old and gained more
experiences. When I speak to people, I ask them about current affairs. When I
read books or study history, I try to learn lessons from them. I finally realize
that essays are written to meet the demands of an era. A poem is written to
respond to an event that has occurred. When Emperor Xiang-zong inherited the
throne, he appointed a man of integrity to be his prime minister. The emperor
frequently ordered government officials to seek the country's problems and then
solve them. At that time I was a member of the Royal academy and an advisor to
the emperor. I gave the emperor my advice frequently. However, there were
occasions when it was difficult for me to write my thoughts in the form of a
formal proposal. Instead, I would write my ideas of solving problems and
correcting shortcomings in the form of poetry. Through these means my ideas
might win the support of the masses of the people. I hoped that one day the
emperor would hear my voice through them. There are three reasons that I should
write this kind of poem: First, they may broaden the emperors vision and help
the government design useful policies. Second, it fulfills my duty and repays
the emperors appreciation of my abilities. Third, it realizes my life goals.
Unexpectedly, I began to regret my pursuit before I could fulfill my dreams.
Slander began to bombard me before the emperor had a chance to read my poems. [Ό
] Those who are in a different party from mine said that I write poems to gain
fame or slander my opponents. Those who are in the same party as mine such as
Seng-ru Liu criticized my straightfordness. Even my wife and children consider
my dedication to poetry worthless. Except for you, anyone who appreciated my
poetry died soon after reading it. Now you are the only one who considers my
devotion to poetry worthwhile. You have suffered hardship for ten years. Alas!
Does this mean the Creator wants to destroy the principles of nature and the
principles of virtue or prevent people from using poetry to express their
problems to the government? If not, I wonder why those who are dedicated to
poetry have suffered so much. From another perspective, when I think of my
abilities, I am only an ordinary man from Guan-dong District and know nothing
about calligraphy, painting, chess, or gambling, which are indispensable means
to gain popularity. It shows that how limited my wisdom is. When I attended the
Advanced Exam, I did not have any relatives who served in the emperor's court
and I did not know any of the high officials. I have advanced my career in slow
steps and fought on the literary battlefield with bare hands. Within ten years,
I passed the Basic Exam, the Middle Exam, and the Advanced Exam. I became famous
and assumed a high office. When I served the emperor's court, I had the
opportunity to associate with the able and worthy. In the past, I gained fame by
means of writing. It is appropriate that in the end I am punished due to my
writing. [Ό ] Several months ago, I started to gather
poems from my bags and chests. I divided my old and new poems into chapters
based on their types. Since I began to serve as an advisor, I have written poems
about beauty, satire, inspiration and comparison. From the Wu-de Period to the
Yuan-he Period, I wrote many of them in new folk style. The title assignment to
each poem was based on the event to which it referred. I call this type of poem
allegorical. While I was at home after a days work or I stayed home idle to
recuperate, I wrote poems to show that I lived in peace and content, and
cultivated my moral character. There are one hundred poems of this type. I call
them leisure poems. Occasionally, I loved to analyze an event based on the
principles of virtue. With strong feelings toward a subject, I wrote down my
sighs and songs. I call this type of poem sentimental. For the rest of my poems
with various rhyming schemes, I call them miscellaneous. In total, there are
about eight hundred poems divided into fifteen chapters. I will present them to
you when we meet again.
"Ancient sages say, 'When one does not have the opportunity to utilize one's
talent, one should cultivate one's moral character. Once one has the opportunity
to utilize one's talent, one should have the ambition to save the world.' Though
I am not wise, I use their words as my motto. A gentleman should promote virtue
and patiently wait for his turn. When his turn arrives, he should go all out as
vigorously as a dragon riding clouds or an eagle riding the wind. When his turn
fails to come, he should retire from public life, as lonesome as a leopard
hidden in the mist or a wild goose gliding in the sky. Thus, one is always happy
whether or not one can utilize ones talent. My goal is to save the world. I
cultivate my moral character to wait for my turn: I pursue virtue to gain
integrity and write poetry to promote virtue. My allegorical poems show my
ambition to save the world. My leisure poems reveal my pursuit of virtue. One
will understand my philosophy after reading my poems. [Ό
] The ideas of my allegorical poems are radical and their descriptions are true.
My leisure poems advocate peace rather than pleasure and their rhetoric clings
to outworn ideas. Thus, I only speak truth and write stale words. No wonder
people are not interested in my poems. In China, you are the only one who loves
my poems. [Ό ] When we are successful, we use poems
to prevent each other from corrupted living. When we suffer hardship, we write
poems to encourage each other. When we part, we console each other with poems.
When we live in the same city, we entertain each other with poems. [Ό
] Those who understand me consider me a god of poetry. Those who do not
understand me consider me bewitched by poetry. Why? I work my heart out and
enslave my voice and spirit day and night without feeling hardship. If it is not
because I am bewitched, then what is the cause? Occasionally, I face a beautiful
scene with friends. It may be when we sit in a garden after a banquet or after
we become intoxicated on a moonlit night. We improvise poems without feeling our
age. Even riding a phoenix or crane or visiting a paradise like Peng-lai
Mountain or Ying-Zhou City is not as interesting as writing poetry. If I am not
a god, how can all this be? [Ό ]"
Zhen Yuan wrote a preface for Ju-yi Bai's Collected Works up to the Chang-qing
Period. It says, "Ju-yi Bai is a versatile writer. His allegorical poems are
powerful enough to prod readers into action. His leisure poems show how he
amused himself. His sentimental poems express his feelings properly. His long
poems are rich; his short poems are full of passion. His criticisms are
appropriate. His reports are true. His proposals are straightforward. His
analysis is complete."
3 "The War drums" refers to ancient drums used on horseback.
4 The dance music was composed by Emperor Xuan-zong. It is said that he heard
this heavenly music while visiting the Moon Palace in his dream. In Chinese
mythology, the moon is a goddess' palace. In this dance, girls attach two long
pieces of colored cloth to their sleeves. The girls continue to throw the pieces
of cloth up towards the sky and then shake them as they drop. This is the reason
the dance gained its name.
5 "Jian-ge" means "sword pavilion". Jian-ge Pass, a.k.a. Jian-men Pass, is
located north of present day Jian-ge-xian City in Sichuan Province.
6 Shu is the short name for Sichuan Province.
7 The Horse Hillside was the place where Yu-huan committed suicide.
8 Tai-yi Pool was a pool in the palace.
9 The Western Palace was Tai-ji Palace.
10 Nan-nei Palace was also known as Xing-qing Palace.
11 "Yuan-yang" means mandarin ducks in Chinese. They walk in pairs, a male
and a female. They symbolize an affectionate couple.
12 Lin-yong City is now called Yong-lai-xian City and is located in Sichuan
13 The Palace of Bright Sun was the palace where the beautiful queen, Fei-yan
(flying swallow) Zhao lived. She was the wife of Emperor Cheng-di in the Han
dynasty. Here the name of the palace refers to the palace where Yu-huan lived
while she was alive.
14 According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the seventh day of the seventh
month is Chinese Valentine's Day.
A River in Snow 1
Liu, Zong-yuan 2 (773-819 CE)
Not a single bird can be seen flying near the high mountain range.
No human traces are found on any of the countless paths.
In a solitary canoe on a cold river,
An old man
Fishes alone in the snow.
After a political power struggle, Liu's reformist party lost. Consequently,
Liu was demoted from Counsel on the Board of Rites to mayor of a primitive
border city in China. This poem shows his courage to fight against evil and
Zong-yuan Liu wrote to Hui-zhi Yang, "When I was seventeen, I resolved to
pass the Advanced Exam. It took me four years to pass the exam. When I was
twenty-four, I aimed for the position of Great Scholar in the Royal Academy. It
took me two years to accomplish my goal. Then I became a lieutenant at Lan-tian
City. I visited powerful officials to seek advancement. Rather than being
impressed by my conversation and manners, they thought I was no
indistinguishable from a common soldier. Then I studied Taoism and mastered its
bibles. However, Scholars of Confucius considered my study frivolous. Later, I
was promoted to Censor and Counsel on the Board of Rites. I thought I might have
the opportunity to fulfill my political dreams. Unexpectedly, within a few
months Emperor Shun-zong became ill and our party lost in a power struggle.
Unavoidably, I was sent into exile."
2 Zi-hou was Zong-yuan Liu's alternate first name. His ancestral home was in Xie-xian City (in present day Shanxi Province) of He-dong County. He was born in
Chang-an City, the capital of the Tang dynasty. His father, Qing, was the
Assistant Censor. When Zong-yuan was four, his mother, Lu, taught him poetry.
When he was twenty-one, he passed the Advanced Exam and then became a Great
Scholar at the Royal Academy. Liu mastered Chinese classics and history. His
opinions were majestic and outstanding. He was appointed to Editor of the
Ji-xian (elites) Palace. Later, he was transferred to Lieutenant at Lan-tian
City. In 803 CE, he was promoted to Censor. In 805 CE, Shu-wen Wang and Zhi-yi
Wei assumed power. In order to reduce the influence of eunuchs and reform
politics, they employed talented people by bypassing the conventional rules. Liu
was appointed to Counsel on the Board of Rites. A few months later, Emperor
Shun-zong was struck down with an illness. He abdicated the throne to Xian-zong.
The political climate changed drastically. Wang and Wei lost power in the
political struggle. In September of that year, Liu was demoted to Mayor of
Shao-zhou City as a result of his association with Wang and Wei. On the way to
Shao-zhou City, Liu was demoted again to Si-ma (a position in charge of the
citys military affairs) of Yong-zhou City. Yong-zhou City is now called
Ling-ling City and is located in Hunan Province. At Lius time Yong-zhou City
was bleak and desolate. He did not have many things to do, so he toured all over
the countryside and recorded many travel notes. In Winter 814 CE, he was
summoned back to the capital. In Spring of the next year, Liu was transferred to
Mayor of Liu-zhou City (present day Liu-cheng-xian City in Guangxi Province), a
more remote and primitive region. Even so, Liu still devoted himself to the city
government and accomplished meritorious services. The people in Liu-zhou City
built a temple in Lo-chi (east of Ma-ping-xian City in Guangxi Province) to
honor him. Yu Han wrote an inscription about him on the tablet of the temple.
Venting My Grief
Yuan, Zhen 1 (779-831 CE)
Though as talented as Prime Minister Xie's favorite daughter 2,
You had resigned yourself to hardship
Since you married me when I was as poor as Lou Qian 3.
After seeing that I did not have any other clothing to change into,
You rummaged through all the trunks.
After I coaxed and pestered you to buy wine for me,
You pulled out your gold hairpin to exchange it for the wine.
You were content with eating wild vegetables
For firewood we relied on fallen branches of old pagoda trees.
Now my salary has greatly improved,
But all I can do is prepare some offerings to honor you 4.
Once we joked about what would happen after death.
I cannot believe this casual attitude about death would be tested so soon.
I have given away almost all your clothing.
But not your needlework, for I still treasure it even though I cannot bear to
look at it.
Because I miss you, I even take extra care of your servants.
I burned some paper money 5 for you several times because I saw
you in my dreams.
I know everyone resents poverty.
Especially for a poor couple, everything looks sad.
Every time I sit at ease,
I lament your unfortunate life and mine.
How long can one live?
You Deng 6 did not have any sons and gradually accepted his fate.
What use was it that Yue Pan 7 wrote a poem to mourn his late
Even if we are buried in the same grave,
Will we be able to meet again?
It is even more difficult
To wonder if we could marry in another life.
The only way I can repay you for your brows knitted with worry all your life
Is to think about you all night, never closing my eyes.
1 Wei-zhi and Wei-ming were Zhen Yuan's other first names. He was a native of
Lo-yang City. Yuan passed the Advanced Exam in 793 CE, and in 803 CE he was
honored as one of the Great Scholars. Early in his political career, he was a
censor in the emperors court. Later, he was sent into exile because he offended
the eunuchs. He subsequently allied himself with them and was promoted to a high
rank. At the peak of his career, he held the position of prime minister for
three months. Yuan also wrote a love story called "Ying-ying". Later, Shi-pu
Wang wrote a great novel, The Romance of the Western Chamber, based on
Yuan's story (The Romance of the Western Chamber, translated by S. I.
Hsiung, New York: Columbia University Press, 1968). One may view the following
segment of the movie "The Romance of the Western Chamber",
, to glimpse how a Chinese movie director in the 1940's interpreted Yuan's
During Emperor Mu-zong's reign, court ladies frequently sang poems entitled
The Palace written by Zhen Yuan. They called him Gifted Scholar Yuan. Later,
Commander Jun Cui of Jing-nan District returned to the capital. He presented
Zhen Yuan's poems to the emperor. The emperor was pleased. He immediately
appointed Yuan as a senior secretary on the Board of Worship Service, and later
as a member of the Royal Academy in charge of the emperor's personal affairs.
Zhen Yuan wrote a preface to his poetry book and sent it to Ju-yi Bai. It
says, "Whenever I am filled with moral indignation; am compelled by duty;
discuss success and failure with friends; lament elapsed youth; record beautiful
landscapes, scenic spots, my satisfactions, frustrations, and thoughts about the
vicissitudes of life; drink wine before flowers; miss my old friends; lie ill;
or encounter anything unusual, I like to express my thoughts and feelings in
poetic form. I have been in exile for five years since I was thirty-two. During
my exile, I have no other means than poetry to release my energy. I am not a
Taoist without any ambition and I have no other interest than poetry. Therefore,
I have devoted myself to poetry. I mingled refined and coarse lines and wrote
many poems, but I did not copy them neatly for others to read. Jing-jian Li, a
native of He-dong (east of the Yellow River) District and Mayor of Jiang-ling
City, loved my poems. He said my poems contain profound meanings. He wanted to
read all of them. Consequently, I compiled my poems into book form. My poems are
divided into several classes. If a poem contains a virtuous theme and is close
to the ancient style, I classify it as ancient satire. If a poem contains
profound meanings and belongs to the folk style, I classify it as folk satire.
If a poem is close to the ancient style but limited to expressing my feelings, I
classify it as ancient style. If a poem is limited to describing objects or
landscapes, I classify it as new folk style. If a poems sound and flow are
smooth and its parallel constructions are proper, I classify it as a regulated
verse. If a regulated verse contains passion and irony, I classify it as
regulated satire. My wife died when I was young. I wrote many poems to honor
her. These poems are entitled Mourning My Late Wife. Some of my poems are
related to education and culture. Modern women love to be dressed up according
to the latest fashion. Their hair styles, varieties of clothing, and choices of
matching colors are amazing. I wrote more than a hundred poems about the beauty
of women. [Ό ] I have heard that a scholar should aim
to establish virtue. If he cannot, he should aim to make contributions. If he
cannot do that, he should aim to write useful thoughts. One desires a job. If
one cannot find it, one desires money. If one cannot find money, one desires
food. I am not a gifted sage, so my virtue is incomplete. My talent is doomed to
be unrecognized, so I have not had an opportunity to make any contributions. My
character lacks divine graces, so my writings fail to set examples for later
generations. I have devoted myself to poetry for almost forty years like an
idiot or a crazy man. [Ό ] Now I am exiled at Tong
City. The city is imperiled by tigers, leopards, and snakes and plagued by
diseases carried through toads, spiders, and mosquitoes. [Ό
] I have little chance to survive. If I have the luck to come out of here alive,
we should visit the capital together and fulfill our mission to make
contributions and write useful poetry. If things become worse, I might be
desperate for food someday. Then my situation would be worse than yours. I
stored my poetry in my chests. It should be viewed as a game like chess, but I
value it more than eating my fill. Perhaps my poetry is not even as worthwhile
as the game of chess. [Ό ]"
Zhen Yuan wrote to Wen-gong Ling-hu, "I have been in exile for more than ten
years since I was demoted from my post as censor. I was free and at leisure, so
I dedicated myself to poetry. Having accumulated my poems over a long period of
time, their number exceeds a thousand. I have expressed my thoughts and feelings
in these poems. They contain the flavor of ancient musicians. Some of my poems
are expressive. However, my words are straightforward and my style is coarse.
Because I worry my poems may offend some people, I dare not show them to others.
Consequently, I write short poems only to entertain myself while drinking wine.
In my opinion, my forms are simplistic and my words lack strength. If I fail to
inject some attitude into my poems, they may easily be viewed as vulgar and
common. In order to make my poems have a lingering appeal, I often try to
contemplate how to express myself, revise the rhyming schemes, and examine my
parallel constructions. However, I am unable to accomplish my goal by myself. [Ό
Zhen Yuan wrote an epitaph for Fu Du's tomb. It begins with a brief history
of Chinese poetry by saying, "After reading Fu Du's poems, I realize that his
poetry epitomizes the ancient poetic talents. Chinese poetry originated from the
poems written by the emperor and his court officials to communicate their
thoughts in poetic form during Emperor Yao and Emperor Shun's reigns. During the
Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties, poets had followed this poetry style for more
than one thousand years. Then Confucius selected the three hundred and five best
poems about education and culture, and compiled them into The Book of Poetry.
After Confucius died, Chinese poetry languished for centuries. Most poets began
to write poems to express their sorrow, but their style and quality were still
close to those in The Book of Poetry. During the Qin and Han dynasties
the government eliminated the office that collected people's poems. Even so,
ballads, lyrics, folk songs, and seductive as well as satirical poems had
developed over time. The poem "The Cypress Beam Pavilion" written Emperor Wu-di
of the Han dynasty was in the form of seven characters to a line. Wu Su (140-60
BCE) and Ling Li (d. 74 BCE) mastered the poetic form with five characters to a
line. Although these poets wrote different styles and mingled refined and
popular tastes, their poems contained profound meanings. They wrote poems to
express their feelings rather than seek fame or profit. After the Jian-an Period
Chinese writers suffered the disaster of civil wars. Cao Cao (155-220) and his
sons often composed poems while in the saddle. Consequently, their poems were
grand and vigorous. With respect to cadence, tragedy, or parting sorrow, their
poems even surpassed classical ones. During the Jin dynasty public morals still
persisted. During the Liu-song and Qi dynasties the foundation of education
deteriorated. People tended to dissemble, take it easy, serve their own
interests, and live an unruffled life. The style of their essays was bold and
carefree; their colors were refined and clear. These essays lacked meanings and
strength because they were limited to describing natural feelings, spirit and
beautiful scenery. The decadency lasted through the Liang and Chen dynasties.
The short poems written during the Liang and Chen dynasties were exquisite in
form, but frivolous in content. These poems would have been considered devoid of
value by the poets of Liu-song and Qi dynasties. Since the beginning of the Tang
dynasty, provincial education has progressed vigorously. Individuals with
mastery of various styles emerged in succession. Quan-qi Shen (656-715) and
Zhi-wen Song (656-713) mastered poetry study, refined rhyming schemes, and
established the style of regulated verses. From then on this new style of poetry
steadily improved. However, those who loved classical poems left out the
contemporary poetry. Those who stressed the ornate style lacked substance. Those
who imitated the style of the Liang and Qi dynasties paled in comparison with
the poets of the Wei and Jin dynasties. Those who mastered the folk style were
not good at the form with five characters to a line. Poets who lived a carefree
life might lack some experiences needed for certain styles of poetry. A poem
with a proper rhyming scheme may lack a framework. Fu Du's poems improved
Chinese poetry dramatically. His ancient style approaches the level of The
Book of Poetry. His contemporary style includes the merits of Quan-qi Shen
and Zhi-wen Song's poems. Du's choice of words surpassed Wu Su and Ling Lis.
Du's spirit swallows Cao Cao and Xie Liu's (465-522). Jan-zhi Yan and Ling-yun
Xie's (385-433) pastoral poetry pales in comparison with Du's. Du's poems also
include the beauty and fluency of Ling Xu (507-583) and Xin Yu's (513-581) poetry. It can
be said that Du mastered the classical and contemporary poetic styles and that
his poetry combines all the expertise that previous poets individually
exhibited. If Confucius were to examine the themes of Du's poetry, he would
highly praise Dus versatility. In my opinion, Fu Du was omnipotent in Chinese
poetry. In Chinese history there has been no poet as versatile as him. [Ό
2 One day Prime Minister An Xie of the Jin dynasty met his nephew and niece
at a family gathering. Before long it started snowing. The prime minister asked
them to describe the scene outside. His nephew replied, "It is almost like
someone is throwing salt in the air." His niece, Dao-yun Xie, said, "That
description is not as good as willow seeds [with white hair] riding on the
wind." The prime minister was greatly pleased. Dao-yun Xie was actually the
niece rather than the daughter of Prime Minister Xie. Yuan's wife, Hui-cong Wei,
was the youngest daughter of Xia-qing Wei, the Prince's Guardian. Yuan is
comparing his noble father-in-law to Prime Minister Xie and his talented late
wife to Dao-yun Xie.
Yuan's wife, Hui-cong Wei, was a native of the national capital. After Wei
died, Yuan wrote a poem to mourn her. It says, "Having experienced the great
ocean, it is difficult to appreciate ordinary waters (The loving care of my late
wife is like an ocean, which dwarfs other waters by comparison)./ Clouds above
other places pale when compared with those above Wu Mountain." After twelve
hundred years, these famous lines of Yuan's remain popular in China today.
3 Lou Qian of the State of Qi was a hermit. King Gong-gong of the State of Lu
wanted to appoint him to be his prime minister. He refused the offer. The King
of the State of Qi heard of Qian's talent and offered him two hundred pounds of
gold if he would become his official. Qian also refused this offer. He lived in
poverty all his life and wrote books on Taoism. When he died, he did not even
have proper clothes to be buried in.
4 Yuan prepared his offerings in his family shrine.
5 Buddhists believe that one can deliver money to one's deceased relatives in
the underworld by burning paper (fake) money.
6 You Deng of the Jin dynasty was the Mayor of He-dong City. In 312 CE, he
fled from home because General Le Shi incited a rebellion against the
government. As Deng fled, he encountered the rebel troops. The urgent situation
forced him to choose between his son's life and his nephew's life. Deng chose
his nephews life because his nephew's father, Deng's younger brother, died
young. Later, You Deng became the Mayor of Wu-jun City. He was kind, but never
had a son again. His contemporaries lamented, The negligence of the Creator
causes Mayor Deng to have no sons. Here Yuan compares himself to Deng because
his wife died and they had no sons.
7 Yue Pan was a poet of the Jin dynasty.
Letter to Chairman Chang As the Advanced Exam
Chu, Ch'ing Yu (He passed the advanced exam in 826 CE)
Red candles have burned all night in the nuptial chamber.
I am nervous as I wait to meet my husband's parents at dawn 2.
After applying make-up, I ask my husband 3 quietly
Whether my eyebrow drawing is in fashion 4.
After receiving Chu's poem, Chang also wrote Chu a poem as his reply:
Reply to Chu 5
Chang, Chieh (766?-830? CE)
You can compare to a freshly made up girl
walking away from
her mirror 6.
She is strikingly beautiful and often whispers to herself 7.
Her song about plucking water chestnuts is worth a fortune
And makes the other girls in fancy silk pale in comparison.
1 In ancient China, if a scholar desired to acquire a good-paying government
position, he had to pass the advanced exam held annually in China's capital. The
system used for the exam did not conceal an examinee's identity. The examiner
could see the signature of the author when he graded the exam. The decision of
whether a person could pass the exam largely depended on the recommendations of
social elites and the literary work that the examinees handed in before the
exam. The work handed in before the exam was called a working book. If one sent
in his work many times, the work was called a review book.
Chang was a famous writer at that time. Consequently, Chu presented some of
his work to Chang. Since Chu was not sure whether the examiner would like his
writing style, he wrote this poem to ask for Chang's opinion about his work. Chu
compared his nervousness about the exam to that of a bride who is waiting to
meet her husband's parents.
During the wedding ceremony, the bride's face was covered by a piece of red
cloth. Consequently, she could not see her husband's parents until the next
The word "husband" refers to Chang.
"Whether my eyebrow drawing is in fashion" is being compared to "whether
the examiner will like Chu's writings".
Chang's poem says that all other examinees are not as talented as Chu.
Chang's reply dispelled Chu's worry. Due to Chang's recommendation, Chu earned a
high score and passed the exam. The above two poems and the friendship between
Chang and Chu became a much-told story in the history of Chinese literature.
Chu's hometown was near Lake Mirror.
The whispering symbolizes that she is prudent and thinks carefully.
Golden Valley Park 1
Du, Mu (803-852 CE)
The prosperity of the park dissipates like the fragrant dust
The water flows relentlessly and the grass still grows like in Spring
the east wind brings a bird's dirge 4.
The falling flowers are like the lady who jumped from the tower
Golden Valley Park was built by Chong Shi during the West-Jin dynasty. It
was located northwest of present day Lo-yang City in Henan Province. The preface
to The Poetry of Golden Valley Park was written by Chong Shi. It says, "I
have another mansion in Henan Province. It is located on an island in the Golden
River Gorge. There are a clear spring and luxuriant trees around the estate. The
park includes bamboo and cedar trees, as well as many fruit trees. It also
contains all kinds of herbs. The park was beautifully landscaped."
There is another poem of Du's, titled "The Inscription on the Temple of Mrs.
Peach Blossom", that praises Lό -zhu. It
"In the harem of thin waists, the dewy peach blossom was new.
She had never spoken for several springs ("several springs" can refer to a
woman who has married several times).
For what reason was the State of Xi destroyed?
It was a pity that the lady jumped from the tower in the Golden Valley."
Its interpretation is as follows:
"Someone told the King of the State of Chu about the beauty of the Queen of
the State of Xi (i.e., Mrs. Peach Blossom). It led the King of Chu to destroy
the State of Xi. The Queen of Xi became a captive and was sent to Chu's palace.
Later, she bore two sons. However, she was silent every day and unhappy. The
King of Chu asked her why. She replied, 'I am a woman who has served two
husbands. Now that I am not allowed to die, I have nothing more to say.' There
is a Chinese saying: A loyal woman does not serve two husbands. Mrs. Peach
Blossom remained silent as a passive protest. Lό
-zhu adopted a more radical solution. She committed suicide in response to a
bully's shameless demand."
The Junior Counselor Concubine says, "Chong Shi spread the sawdust
from aloes wood on his elephant-tusk bed. Then he asked his favorite dancers to
dance on the bed. Those who were light and left no footprints behind would be
awarded pearls." This story shows how extravagant Shi was.
This line says that history belittles Chong Shi's wealth and praises Lό
-zhu's virtue. The park no longer exists. Only the water and grass remains. The
word "Spring" refers to virtue.
"Dirge" refers to the death of Lό -zhu,
Shi's favorite concubine.
The lady jumping from the tower refers to Lό
-zhu (green pearl). The chapter titled "The Biography of Chong Shi" in The
History of Jin Dynasty says, "Lό -zhu
was Shi's favorite concubine. She was extremely beautiful and accomplished at
playing the flute. Xiu Sun sent people to demand that Shi hand over Lό
-zhu. Chong Shi said, 'Lό -zhu is my love.
You cannot have her.' Consequently, Xiu Sun accused Shi of a false crime in
front of King Lun. The king sent armed guards to arrest Shi. Shi said to Lό
-zhu, 'I am being accused because of you.' Lό
-zhu cried and said, ' am loyal to you and will commit suicide in front of the
guards.' Then she jumped from a tower and died."
Letter to My Wife on a Rainy Night 1
Li, Shang-yin (812?-858 CE)
You asked when I would return home,
But I cannot tell you the exact date.
The night rain on Mts. Ba-shan 2 fills the autumn pools.
I wonder when we can trim the candle wicks together by our west window 3,
1 Shang-ying Li wrote this letter to his wife, Lady Wang, in Chang-an City
while he traveled to the Eastern State of Shu. The State of Shu is now called
2 Mts. Da-ba-shan and Mts. Ba-ling are other names of Mts. Ba-shan. The
mountain range stretches across the borders of Shaanxi and Sichuan Provinces.
Here "Mts. Ba-shan" refers to the eastern region of Sichuan Province.
3 This line reminds us of romantic candlelight. One may desire to view the
http://www.tudou.com/programs/view/y-gO3W0v8lI/. This piece of Chinese classical music is entitled
"A Candle's Shadow Dances
with the Flame".
Li, Shang-yin (812?-858 CE)
The stars and wind tonight are the same as they were last night,
So is the east ball room of Laurel Hall, west of the painted pavilion 1.
Though our bodies, lacking the wings of a colorful phoenix, could not fly to
each other 2,
Our hearts were linked like the heavenly line 3 on a rhinoceros'
Your hand passing the hook 4 made the wine warm in my veins
We were divided into different groups to play the guessing game 5
As the candlelight glowed red.
When the morning drum announced the hour for work
I spurred my horse toward the Orchid Tower 6
Like a dandelion seed spinning and drifting on the wind.
1 The first two lines say that Li fell in love with a woman he met at the
party the previous night, but felt lonely when he visited the same place again.
After reading Li's love poem, one may desire to listen to the following love
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgOwpbuigeQ&feature=related, to add proper atmosphere.
2 Shang-yin Li recalled the party held the previous night.
3 It was said that the white line going from the top to the bottom of a
rhinoceros horn would bring good luck. Nowadays this line is more often
interpreted as follows: For those whose hearts are closely linked, even the
slightest hint of feeling or thoughts will be fully understood between them.
4 Gou Yi, the wife of Emperor Wu-di in the Han dynasty, had a hand that
stiffened into a fist when she was young. The emperor pried her hand open and
found a jade hook. Afterwards, her hand was cured. Later, based on this story,
someone invented a game called "hiding the hook". The game is played as follows:
A blindfolded person beats a drum. While the drum is beating, a jade hook is
passed around. When the drumbeat stops, the person who has the hook in his or
her hand must perform some entertainment such as telling a joke or singing a
5 The guessing game was to guess the object under a cover.
6 Li's office was in the Orchid Tower, where the Bureau of Archives was
Untitled III 1
Li, Shang-yin (812?-858 CE)
Meeting is difficult;
Parting is also hard.
The east wind loses its power;
Many flowers wither.
Only after a Spring silkworm dies may it stop spinning its silk 2;
Only after a candle's wick burns to ashes may its tears start to dry.
Facing the mirror in the morning,
Reciting poems in the evening, you feel the chill of the moonlight.
Peng Mountain 3 is not far from here;
I will send a blue bird 4 to watch over you.
1 After reading Li's love poem, one may desire to view the following video,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEB5afO6jRA&feature=related, to see how a modern Chinese musician expresses his yearning for love.
2 In Chinese, silk and yearning have the same pronunciation, "si". Chinese
people often describe hair as three thousand silk threads of care. According to
these senses, this line says, "one yearns for love until one dies."
3 Peng Mountain was a brief name for Peng-lai Mountain. It was a
fabled island abode of immortals. Here "Peng Mountain" refers to the dwelling of the
person for whom the poem was written.
4 The chapter on "The Western Wasteland" in The Seas and Mountains Classic
says, "In the west there exists a mountain where the Queen Mother of the West
(Mother of the Supreme Deity of Taoism; 'West' refers to Heaven) lives. There
are also three birds with red heads and black eyes." A footnote says, 'The three
birds are the messengers of the Queen Mother of the West." The Story of
Emperor Wu-di of the Han Dynasty says, "Before the Queen Mother of the West
visited Emperor Wu-di, she sent a blue bird to the palace." Consequently, later
generations used a blue bird to symbolize a messenger.
Li, Shang-yin (812?-858 CE)
Using several sheets of thin, fragrant silk
I sew a green-flecked bed-canopy with a round top 1 in the dead of
I remember the day we met.
I was bashful and covered my face with a full-moon 2 fan.
We could hardly hear each other's words
Because of the rumbling traffic in the street.
Since then I have been lonely
And have watched the flowers of the lamp 3 fall one by one during
I have not heard from you again
And now the pomegranate trees turn red with blossoms.
Today I saw only your horse tethered to a drooping willow tree at the shore.
I wonder where in the southwest you wait for the fair wind 4.
hangs across the door of Mo-Chou
While lying on a bed,
I feel the quiet night is stretching out very long.
The story of the Goddess 6 is only a dream.
There is no sweetheart in the maiden's dwelling.
The fragile stem of a water chestnut is beaten by wind-swept waves.
The dew under the moon does not seek laurel leaves' fragrance
Even though I know it is no use to be lovesick,
I do not care if others consider my sorrow inappropriate.
This type of green-flecked bed-canopy with a round top was called the
Canopy of a Hundred Sons. It was often used for the wedding night.
A full-moon fan is a white round fan.
The flowers of the lamp refer to the wick braided into flower shapes.
In his poem "Seven Sorrows", Zhi Cao compares himself to a woman. He says,
"I wish I could become the southwestern wind/ And reside in your heart after I
die." Here "the fair wind" means "his true love".
Mo-Chou means "do not worry". A footnote on Classical Music says,
"There was a woman named Mo-Chou in the City of Stones. She was good at singing
folk songs." The word "Mo-Chou" appears frequently in ancient Chinese poems. It
refers to a woman in general.
The prologue of the poem "The Goddess" written by Yu Song says, "King Xiang
of Country Chu and Yu Song traveled together along the Cloud-Dream Lake. The
king ordered Yu to write a poem about the Goddess of Wu Mountain. As expected,
the king met the Goddess in his dream that night. She was extremely beautiful."
Because Chinese often use a gold branch and jade leaves to describe a lady
from a noble family, the fragile stem and laurel leaves refer to the woman Li
imagines writing this poem. The dew symbolizes her tears. Fragrance
means "fame or compliments".