The Summer Heat


山亭夏日, 高骈

In summer, green trees give shade day long
And the pavilion is mirrored on the pond
As a gentle breeze ripples on the water
The scent of roses is everywhere

Summer Day at a Mountain Pavilion, Gao Pian, 821-887

Lǜshù yīn nóng xià rì zhǎng,
lóutái dàoyǐng rù chítáng,
shuǐjīng lián dòng wéifēng qǐ,
mǎn jià qiángwēi yī yuàn xiāng

Shāntíng xià rì, Gāo pián

Note. shuǐjīng lián dòng wéifēng qǐ, line three, literally, crystal curtains that stir in the breeze, is here used as a metaphor for ripples on the water. As Gao Pian was a follower of the Tao de Ching, he was likely to make such allusions. Whether this interpretation is accurate, I leave to the reader.

How hot is it?

This summer, there is record breaking heat across North America and Europe. It is July, 2022, over a thousand years since Gao Pian (高骈, 821-887) wrote this poem. The unidentified location is likely near Chengdu, Sichuan province.

Having just returned from Colorado, much of the poem coolness rings true. The tall pines and Aspen shade the mountain slopes, the wildflowers bloom in colorful profusion, rose bushes are found here and there, songbirds sing overhead while a gentle breeze cools the sweat on one’s forehead. Along the way, clear cold lakes and beaver ponds mirror the trees and blue skies against a backdrop of towering mountains with their vestiges of winter snow.

Far away from the maddening crowd, am I.

Shāntíng xià rì, A Summer Day at a Mountain Pavilion

Notes on Translation

Lóutái, 楼台. Tai is an architectural structure, consisting of an elevated terrace and flat top. It often served as an observatory. Lou refers to a multi-storied structure. Mǎn jià qiángwēi yī yuàn xiāng, 满架蔷薇一院香 the last line, is a bit convoluted, and difficult to translate, but my sense is close if not literal. Qiángwēi are the multiflora roses one sees on trellises growing beside a door or window. Thus, one pictures a courtyard full of roses, and the fragrance that fills the air.

Shuǐjīng lián, line three, literally a crystal curtain, is a metaphor for ripples on the water. This ties together the gentle breeze, the rippling water, and the rose fragrance throughout the courtyard.

Also, another translator places the location at coastal Yangzhou (near Shanghai) and tells a delightful story about Gao’s friendship with a Confucian scholar from Korea. (Translator Wang Shi). As the poem’s title tells us it takes place at a “mountain pavilion,” I would opt for Chengdu, in Sichuan. High Tang officials often retreated to a mountain summer home and included a pond or two in their landscaping. The place only matters for those hung up on details. It is a lovely poem to beat the summer heat. See Wang Shi’s translation.

Gao Pian, the Author

Gao Pian, also known as Qianli (千里, a thousand li, or miles), was a military general and poet of the late Tang Dynasty. He gained fame for defeating Nanzhao incursions in southern China. His star faded, as he later failed to quell an internal rebellion. His time as military governor at Chengdu produced mixed results and much criticism. He was a devout Taoist, but misunderstood its maxims, as he second guessed subordinates and tolerated no independent action. He misgoverned the Huainan Circuit (corresponding to the ancient State of Wu, then Jiangsu province). He was imprisoned and put to death.

qiángwēi, roses

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