jiāng xuě, River Snow

In a thousand mountains, no bird flies
On ten thousand trails, no human trace
But one man in a grass raincoat and hat
Fishes in the river and  snow

In a thousand mountains, where no bird flies
On ten thousand trails, where no man walks
A single man in a grass coat and hat
Fishes by himself on the river and in the falling snow

Liu Zongyuan

Why do so many poets, embrace the sport of fishing? Because it’s done alone.

Liu Zongyuan (栁宗元, 773 – 819) wrote River and Snow , 江雪 while living in Yongzhou, Hunan province. The dates of his birth and death identify him as a late Tang poet. The poem is simple and direct in its message. The poet in his coat and hat of grass fishes for words to describe his loneliness surrounded by a thousand mountains and ten thousand trails where no bird flies and no man walks.

I have translated this poem before, and before that, but like my favorite snow covered path in the wintry woods where no man goes but me and the fleeting deer, it is one I like to come back to this time of year. It is different but still beautiful, perhaps that is why one likes to fish.

A poet is a fisherman
漁民, Yúmín
And a scholar
学者, Xuézhě
who fishes for words
with which to say
how beautiful is
this winter’s day;
in a thousand mountains
on ten thousand trails
alone, on the river

in the falling snow
fishing in coat and hat,
wine to keep him warm,
not catching
the words he needs to say
how beautiful

how wonderful is
the pure white snow,
Bái xuě ái ái,
and when at last
he’s had enough

of words and fish
he falls asleep

to dream of better days

Pinyin and Chinese

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

千山鸟飞绝,万径人踪 灭。
孤舟蓑笠翁,独钓寒江雪

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