Happy Birthday

As far as I know, the Chinese of the Tang Dynasty did not celebrate birthdays. Perhaps they had no simple method of recording birth dates, perhaps it was because they viewed life as precarious, for one should not tempt fate. Perhaps it was because each birthday was a reminder of the passage of time and the shortness of life. Perhaps…

The following poem, Climbing Stork Tower, by Wang Zhihuan, while not intended as a birthday salute, seems to me, to fill the bill for those willing to go on.

Nesting Storks

Climbing Stork Tower

The sun beyond the mountains glows,

As the Yangtze seaward flows.

To enjoy a grander sight,

You must climb to a greater height.

Wang Zhihuan’s Climbing Stork Tower

On the west bank of the Yangtze, or in English, the Yellow River, in the ancient city of Puzhou, in Shanxi Province, there is an ancient tower from which one can see the water of the Yangtze rolling flowing away to the sea.

The Stork Tower overlooks the Yangtze River, which flows south and east. Further west are mountains. It is a little more than halfway between Luoyang, the eastern capital of the Tang Dynasty, and Chang’an, the main capital and site of the Imperial Palace. It was named for the many storks who chose to nest in its great height. It was also a popular gathering place for poets and scholars of the Tang Dynasty. Wang Zhihuan’s poem has become a Chinese standard for studying hard to succeed. The last line in particular has become an idiom for “taking it up a notch.”

It is also, if one permits me, a celebration of a birthday, the hope of more to come.

One, of course, asks the question — is it a rising or setting sun? An old man might presume the sun is setting. The mountains are, in fact, to the south. So, the sun’s glow could apply to both morning and evening.

Original Chinese

登鹳雀楼

白日依山尽,
黄河入海流。
欲穷千里目,
更上一层楼。

Dēng Guànquè Lóu

Bái rì yī shān jǐn,
huánghé rù hǎiliú.
Yù qióng qiānlǐ mù,
gèng shàng yī céng lóu

Note, previously translated.

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