江雪 River-Snow, Liu Zongyuan

千山鳥飛絕

萬徑人蹤滅

孤舟簑笠翁

獨釣寒江雪

Qiānshān niǎo fēi jué
wàn jìng rén zōng miè
gū zhōu suō lì wēng
dú diào hán jiāng xuě

On a thousand mountains, not a bird takes flight
On ten thousand paths, not a soul in sight,
In a boat, an old man in a grass cape sits under a bamboo hat,
Alone, fishing, on the snow-covered river, despite the cold

Liu Zongyuan, 柳宗元 (773 – 819)

Qianshan, 千山,  a thousand mountains. Wàn jìng, 萬徑, ten thousand paths

clouds-mountain-dark

 

Winter Returns

In an earlier post, I translated Liu Zongyuan’s River Snow.

Now that that winter returns, I return to that lonely fisherman in his grass cape and bamboo hat. He is a solitary figure, fishing on a frozen river. Look closely, and I am sure you will see something of yourself. The Dude abides, to borrow a phrase from The Big Lebowski. Don’t be confused, it means nothing more than he exists despite the cold and hardship. It is a Zen thing.

Quinshan, China

Today, Qianshan is a national park in Liaoning Province, in northeastern China, bordering the Korean Peninsula and the Yellow Sea.

In line three, Li places our poor and solitary 孤 old man 翁 in a boat 舟, wearing nothing more than a grass cape 簑 and bamboo hat 笠. He is part of the natural setting, one with Nature.

River Snow

And what did Liu mean by river snow?

The poem ends in the three Chinese characters – 寒江雪, hán jiāng xuě.

Literally “cold river snow,”  the first character meaning, cold, poor, tremble, fear, or winter. It is also a homophone for the Han, the Chinese people.

Such a simple and beautiful poem, but complex. The poem may be a metaphor for Liu Zongyuan’s banishment from the royal court, or the plight of the late Tang dynasty, which had fallen on hard times.

It may also be nothing more than an observation of the human condition – life ain’t easy.

French translation River Snow

A brief commercial interruption

Translating poetry does not pay the bills. Check out this 14″ by 20″ hooked wool pillow called Santa’s Late Delivery that Liu Zongyuan would have liked.  Free shipping in the continental US only.

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163SANTA-last-delivery

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