Spring Morning,

It’s Spring, I lie awake as morning breaks.
While everywhere are birds who cry,
Who heard last night
the sound of rain and wind
So do you know how many flowers fell?

春晓

春眠不觉晓
处处闻啼鸟
夜来风雨声
花落知多少

peach trees in blossom

Meng Haoran, 孟浩然

I tossed in bed this morning, I could not sleep. I heard the birds cry. It rained, it howled last night, as the cherry blossoms fell.

Spring approaches. Before the branches and the leaves turn green, first come the fragrant plum, then the pretty peach and lovely cherry blossoms. But such beauty cannot last long, not even the immortal peach. Nature’s rain and howling winds must prepare the earth for spring. Meng Haoran (孟浩然) the author of this poem reminds us that life is as fragile as a cherry blossom. Meng was an older contemporary of Li Bai, Du Fu, and Wang Wei. He died in 740, more than a decade before the devastating An Lushan Rebellion that rained down from the North, consuming millions of Chinese lives until the storm abated.

Pinyin

Chūn mián bù jué xiǎo,
Chùchù wén tí niǎo.
Yèlái fēngyǔ shēng,
Huā luò zhī duōshǎo.

Notes

Line 2, Chùchù, everywhere. Line 3, fēngyǔ, wind and rain, but also trials and hardships. Compare the Chinese phrase — 落花流水 luò huā liú shuǐ, to be in a sorry state. Indeed, falling flowers in line 4, is a sorry state. Line 4, zhī, know, duōshǎo, how many, huā luò, flowers fell? The word order is changed to suit the English translation.

Meng Haoran might have written this poem simply to reflect on the life’s fragility. He was, after all, a practicing Buddhist; and friend of Wang Wei, another practicing Buddhist.

He may also have meant to dedicate these lines to the flower of Chinese youth who fall each year in battle. This is a similar theme echoed by Bob Dylan in his song Blowin’ in the Wind, 1962. One can also recall the association in World War I between Red Poppies and the multitude of deaths on the battle fields.

We cannot know for certain what Meng intended, nor does it matter.

Here, I recall for you, the gentle reader, the wordless sermon Buddha gave to his disciples in holding up a white flower. No one understood the Flower Sermon except the disciple Mahākāśyapa, who smiled.

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