Chinese Classic Poetry Verses - Part Two

Julie Shu, Librarian, International Languages Department,
Classic Poetry or the Book of Songs written in traditional Chinese characters against a Chinese painting.

Ancient Chinese classic poems are complex works of art. As far back as 3,000 years ago, Chinese poets composed the beautiful work called Book of Songs and Elegies of the South. They later created more splendid poetry during the Tang and Song dynasties. Throughout centuries, people have cited these poems in their daily lives and writings. The following are some well-known verses translated into English in three parts. This second set of poems is about courtship, marriage & love, and scenery.

  1. Crying Ospreys (excerpt), from Book of Songs. BCE 1,100 - 600
    Merrily the osprey cry, on the islet in the stream. Gentle and graceful is the girl, a fit wife for the gentleman. (Translations by Young Xianyi & Dai Naidi)
    关关雎鸠,在河之洲. 窈宨淑女,君子好逑.

  2. The Reeds (excerpt), from Book of Songs. BCE 1,100 - 600
    The reeds grow green, frosted dew-drops gleam. Where was she seen? Beyond the stream. (Translation by Xu Yuanchong)
    蒹葭苍苍,白露为霜. 所谓伊人,在水一方.

  3. Written in a Village to the South of the Capital, by Cui Hu. CE 772 - 846
    This day last year I saw within this door, a rosy face by the side of rosy peach bloom. Today in the breeze again smiles the peach bloom, yet where is gone that face? I see it no more. (Translation by Wang Jianzhong)
    去年今日此门中,人面桃花相映红. 人面不知何处去,桃花依旧笑春风.

  4. Drumbeats (excerpt), from Book of Songs. BCE 719 - 597
    [Author’s Note: While away from home for a long time, a soldier expresses his love for his wife.] Meet or part, live or die, we’ve made oath, you and I. Give me your hand I’ll hold, and live with me till old! (Translation by Xu Yuanchong)
    死生契阔,与子成说. 执子之手,与子偕老.

  5. Ballad of a Merchant’s Wife (excerpt), by Li Bai. CE 701 - 762
    My forehead covered by my hair cut straight, I played with flowers pluck’d before the gate. On a hobby-horse you came on the scene, around the well we played with plums still green. We lived, close neighbors on Riverside Lane, carefree and innocent, we children twain. (Translation by Xu Yuanchong)
    妾发初覆额,折花门前剧. 郎骑竹马来,绕床弄青梅. 同居长干里,两小无嫌猜.

  6. Recalling Jiangnan (South of Yangzi River), by Bai Juyi. CE 772 - 846
    [Author’s note: Jiangnan is well known for its mild weather and natural beauty. The poet lived and worked in Jiangnan during his youth. Now, in his old age, he has moved back to the north but often dreams of that beautiful place.]
    Fair Southern shore, with scenes I adore. At sunrise riverside flowers redder than fire. In spring green waves grow as blue as sapphire, which I can't but admire. (Translation by Xu Yuanchong)
    江南好,风景旧曾谙; 日出江花红胜火,春来江水绿如蓝. 能不忆江南?

  7. A Shepherd’s Song, by Hulu Jin. CE 488 - 567
    [Author’s note: The poem describes the beauty of the prairie in what is today’s Inner Mongolia and Shanxi province.] At the foot of the hill, by the side of the rill, the grassland stretches ’neath the firmament tranquil. The boundless grassland lies, beneath the boundless skies. When the winds blow, and grass bends low, my sheep and cattle will emerge before your eyes. (Translation by Xu Yuanchong)
    敕勒川,阴山下,天似穹庐,笼盖四野. 天苍苍,野茫茫,风吹草低见牛羊.

  8. On Mission to the Frontier (North of Great Wall), by Wang Wei. CE 701 - 761
    In boundless desert lonely smokes rise straight; over endless river the sun sinks round. (Translation by Xu Yuanchong)

  9. Deer Park, by Wang Wei. CE 699 - 761
    In the empty mountains I see no one, but hear the sound of someone’s voice. Slanting sunlight enter deep forest, and shine again on green moss. (Translation by Greg Whincup)
    空山不见人,但闻人语响. 返景入深林,复照青苔上.

Further Reading

Treasury of Chinese Love Poems: In Chinese and English = Zhongguo gu dian ai qing shi xuan

300 Tang Poems: a New Translation

Tang shi = Tang poems

Yuefu Songs With Regular Five-Syllable Lines