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Moonlit River in Spring 1

Zhang, Ruo-xu 2 (660?-720? CE)
The tidal water of the Spring river connects to the sea at the same level.
The bright moon rises from the sea with the tide.
The river痴 vast water drifts with the tide for a thousand miles.
Everything along the green river is illuminated by the moon.
The river surrounds a fragrant park windingly.
The moonlight that illuminates the blooming grove looks like freezing mist.
The light is so serene that it does not seem to originate from the moon.
One cannot distinguish the moonlight from the white sand on the shore.
The river and the sky blur into one color containing not even a speck of dust.
The lonesome moon disk is the only bright object in the sky.
Who first saw the moon from the river bank?
When did the moon above the river first shine on men? 3
People have lived along the river bank for countless generations.
The river and the moon remain the same year after year.
I wonder what kind of man the river and the moon are waiting for 4,
But I only see the long river carry flowing water away 5.
A wisp of white clouds drifts off leisurely.
There is too much sorrow for Qing-feng Riverside 6 to bear.
Whose son is in the flat boat tonight?
Where is the moonlit tower against which he can lean while thinking of his love?
It is a pity that the moon above the tower lingers on
And shines on the dressing table of his love as well.
The bamboo screen hanging from a jade door cannot prevent her from seeing the image of her love.
She cannot wipe away the image emerging from the stone block 7 either.
Both the man and the woman watch the same moon,
But they cannot hear each other.
She wishes she could chase the moonlight and shine on her love,
A wild goose could fly a long distance in a short time 8,
And fish swimming under water could generate ripples 9.
Last night on a serene lake he dreamed of fallen flowers.
It is a pity that he does not return home after half the Spring is past.
The river carries fallen flowers away and Spring is about to end 10.
The moon above the river sets slantingly toward the west.
The heavy and slanting moon is hidden in the sea mist.
The water course from Jie-shi Gulf to the Xiao River or the Xiang River is endless 11.
I wonder how many travelers would return home by taking advantage of the moonlight.
The setting moon stirs one's immense yearning for love
As if the yearning could cover all the trees beside the river.


1 Chinese poet Yi-duo Wen (1899-1946) praised this poem by saying that it was the best Chinese poem ever written. The first half of the poem says that the moon, the river, and human wisdom are a trinity. The moon and the river inspire people's wisdom. The second half of the poem says that the moon, the river and human emotions are a trinity. The moon and the river help lovers strengthen their bond.
    During the Tang dynasty, the royal music school set poems to music. One may listen to the music score accompanying this poem by visiting

2 Ruo-xu Zhang's poems enjoyed the same fame as those of Rong Bao, Zhi-zhang He (659-744), and Xu Zhang (658-747) during the early Tang dynasty. These four poets were called 擢our Gentlemen from the Central Region of Wu District.

3 These two lines are a poetic way to say that the moon, the river, and men are so closely bound that their first connections have been lost in time.

4 On summer afternoons, I often visit a shallow creek in my neighborhood. Sitting on a rock under shade, cooling my feet under water, and reading a book on my lap, I solve many difficult problems. In evenings, I walk a mile after dinner. I also solve many thorny dilemmas during this peaceful walk under the moon. In this sense, the moon and the river raise human wisdom like a mother. This line of the poem says that the moon and the river have great expectations for men.

5 "The long river carries flowing water away" says that time flies.

6 "Qing" means "green"; "feng" means "maple". Qing-feng Riverside is located in Hunan Province.

7 In ancient China, while a woman washed clothes, she used a wooden pestle to pound her wet clothes on a stone block to make them whiter.

8 The woman wishes a wild goose could quickly deliver letters between her and her love. In 100 BCE, after a period of peace between the Huns and the Han dynasty of China, the King of the Huns detained Chinese ambassador Wu Su. This started a war (99 BCE) which lasted eighteen years. When they agreed to a truce, the Emperor of China sent an envoy to inquire about Wu Su. The King of the Huns first denied any knowledge of the affair. The envoy made up a story by saying, "The Emperor of China received a letter that Wu had tied to the leg of a wild goose." The King of the Huns then admitted to his fault and released Wu Su. Later, in their fiction, Chinese writers often used a wild goose as a means of delivering letters.

9 The Chinese character representing "ripples" and that representing "writing" are pronounced the same. Therefore, this line says the woman wishes fish could deliver her love痴 message through a river. The following lines are in the poem "War Horses Drank at the Well by the Great Wall":
A guest came from far away
And left me two carp.
When I asked my boy to cook them,
He discovered that there was a letter in them.

10 "Flowers" and "Spring" refer to youth.

11 Jie-shi Gulf is located in Guangdong Province; both the Xiao River and the Xiang River originate in Hunan Province. To travel from Jie-shi Gulf to the Xiao River or the Xiang River, one must pass through sea and the Yangtze River.