BCLC’s Top Picks of Chinese Poetry

1. Thoughts in the Silent Night — Li Bai

李白《静夜思》

床前明月光,

疑是地上霜。

举头望明月,

低头思故乡。

 

Translated by Yang Xianyi & Dai Naidie

 

Beside my bed a pool of light—

Is it hoarfrost on the ground?

I lift my eyes and see the moon,

I bend my head and think of home

Born in 701, Li Bai was a poetic genius who took romantic poetry to new heights. His poetry helped define the Golden Age of the Tang dynasty. Legend has it that he passed away trying to reach his reflection in water under the moonlight.

2. Grasses — Bai Juyi

白居易 《赋得古原草送别》

离离原上草,

一岁一枯荣。

野火烧不尽,

春风吹又生。

远芳侵古道,

晴翠接荒城。

又送王孙去,

萋萋满别情。

 

Boundless grasses over the plain

Come and go with every season;

Wildfire never quite consumes them —

They are tall once more in the spring wind.

Sweet they press on the old high- road

And reach the crumbling city-gate….

O Prince of Friends, you are gone again….

I hear them sighing after you.

Another poet of the Tang Dynasty, most of Bai Juyi’s poetry reflected his experiences as a government official. His poetry is known for its direct, simple style, often providing social and political commentary.

3. A Poem By A Leaving Son— Meng Jiao

孟郊《游子吟》

慈 母 手 中 线,

游 子 身 上 衣。

临 行 密 密 缝,

意 恐 迟 迟 归。

谁 言 寸 草 心,

报 得 三 春 晖。

 

Translated by Liu Jianxun

 

The thread in the hands of a fond-hearted mother

Makes clothes for the body of her wayward boy;

Carefully she sews and thoroughly she mends,

Dreading the delays that will keep him late from home.

But how much love has the inch-long grass

For three spring months of the light of the sun?

Meng Jiao, another famous poet from the Tang Dynasty, was an impoverished and wandering poet. Had he taken the imperial examinations instead of pursuing poetry, he could have had a very different life as a political official. His poems tend to be harsh, doubtless reflecting his difficulties in life.

 

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