Spring Dawn by Mèng Hào Rán (春曉, 孟浩然)










Spring Dawn

Mèng Hào Rán

In spring sleep, dawn arrives unknowingly,

I hear crying birds everywhere.

From the sound of the wind and rain last night,

I wonder how many flowers fell?

Mèng Hào Rán  (689-740) was a famous Tang dynasty poet. In his later years preferring the life of a recluse, when Mèng was not visiting friends at their posts along the Cháng Jiāng river (Yangtze), including his close compadre Wáng Wéi (for which he wrote several poems), he  would be writing poetry while immersed in nature, primarily at his family seat in South mountain (南山) or in his hermitage on Lù Mén mountain (鹿門山) where he briefly lived in retreat. Mèng is often referred to as a ‘landscape poet’, for his beautiful reflections and writings on the landscapes around him, especially the ones around his hometown, modern day Hú Běi province.

Another five character quatrain poem, this and my previous poetry post (Wáng Wéi’s Deer Fence), are a couple of the most popular poems in modern day China, which can be recited by memory by many Chinese folk. Archie Barnes in his Chinese through Poetry describes this simple poem eloquently, “It describes the process of waking up in four successive stages: first, unconsciousness; second, the awakening of sensory perception; third, the awakening of memory; and fourth, the awakening of rational thought, giving full daytime consciousness.”



Lù Zhái (The Deer Fence) by Wáng Wéi (鹿柴, 王维)









Lù Zhái (The Deer Fence) [3]

Wáng Wéi

In (this) empty mountain[4], no one is seen,

But only the sounds of others are heard.

On return, (sun)light enters the deep forest,

And once again, it shines atop the green moss.



This poem was written in the classic five-syllable quatrain form, which is the shortest of forms in Chinese poetry. How fitting that Wáng Wéi in his simple Buddhist, reflective tone would use this minimalistic style, requiring the reader to meditate on the characters, and visualize and conjure up their own ideas as to what the poet meant. Here, every character counts, and has the potential to hold a deeper meaning.

[1] Wang Wei (701-761) a Tang Dynasty poet was a devout Buddhist, having spent many years studying with his master Dao Guang. Wang’s poetry conveys beautiful imagery and his deep love of nature often using only a few characters, which were tinged with Buddhist themes throughout, showing the interconnections and relationships of all phenomenon in nature.

[2] Many commentators have said that ‘’ here is an alternate for ‘’ (reflection, shadow), however, I believe since 景 alludes to daylight and its resulting brightness this character makes more sense in the poem.  

[3] Lu Zhai is a place name, thought to be the location near Wáng Wéi’s cottage. This is in current Lán Tián county in Shǎn Xī province.

[4] Empty mountain (空山): The idea here is not simply of an ‘empty mountain’ or one devoid of any other humans or objects, as we know this is not the case, given that there is mention of a deep forest on this mountain. Although this may be what Wáng Wéi was alluding to, we can assume based on his Buddhist lens on the world, that the ‘empty ’ here was speaking to more of an ‘empty’ quality from the Buddhist perspective, the idea of a false or illusory nature of existence, and that all phenomenon have no reality.  As Lù Zhái was one of Wáng\’s retirement cottages, solitude may have been exactly what he was looking for and therefore the first definition also makes sense. This is the beauty of this style of poetry, as since we\’ll never know exactly what the poet meant, we can conjure up our own ideas and thoughts. 

Poetry of Bái Jū-Yì (白居易)

Reading Chinese poetry with a warm cup of wū lóng tea seems very fitting these days with the arrival of winter and its short, dark, and wet days. The following are two personal favorites of mine written by Bái Jū-Yì (772-846) of the tang dynasty known for his plain, direct, and easily comprehensible style of verse, as well as for his social and political criticism.

Thoughts, interpretations, and comments are always welcome and encouraged.



A Bloom is not a Bloom

Bái Jū-Yì

A bloom is not a bloom,
The mist not mist.
It comes at midnight,
And leaves again at dawn.
Arrives like a spring dream, but for how long?
Departs like morning clouds, without a trace.



Reading Lǎo Zǐ

Bái Jū-Yì

Those who speak do not know, while the ones that do are silent.
These are the words I’ve heard from the old gentleman (Lǎo Zǐ).
If the old gentleman knew the way,
Then for what reason did he write five-thousand characters.

Thoughts on a Quiet Night

Thoughts on a Quiet night
Li Bai
Before my bed the moon shines bright,
As frost upon the ground.
Raising my head I glare at the bright moon,
Lowering it I think of home.

Although this post is not Chinese medicine \’Per se\’, I have decided  to include my translation of a very short Poem by the very famous Tang dynasty poet Li Bai.
Li Bai is best known for the extravagant imagination and striking Taoist imagery in his poetry, as well as for his great love for liquor. He spent much of his life travelling, although in his case it was because his wealth allowed him to, rather than because his poverty forced him. He is said to have drowned in the Yangtze River, having fallen from his boat while drunkenly trying to embrace the reflection of the moon.