I Visit Qiantang Lake in Spring

(after Bai Juyi)

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I could go north to Gushan temple, or west to Jiating.
I could. But here… here, I am between the calm water and the drifting clouds,
Where the young orioles squabble over perches in the sun,
Where the swallows have returned, and now are harvesting the spring mud.

Unruly flowers sprang up while I was looking elsewhere,
While my horse waded through the new grass.

No, I’ll go east again, where I long to wander
Beneath the green poplars, on White Sand Trail.

 

 

The poem is translated from Bai Juyi’s “A Visit to Qiantang Lake in Spring.” Bai Juyi (772–846) was a government official; poets need a day job. Wikipedia has a reasonably thorough and accessible (and presumably reasonably accurate) biography of the man. There is a tradition holding that Bai Juyi used to read his poems to an old peasant woman, and would change any word she did not understand.

I have not been able to figure out exactly where Qiantang Lake is, or was. There is a Qiantang River that lets out into Hangzhou Bay and thence to the East China Sea; the river and bay are (says, again, Wikipedia) home to the world’s largest tidal bore. People surf it. The city of Hangzhou itself was formerly known as Qiantang, and Bai Juyi was its prefect from 822-825.

Here is — so I am told — the poem in its original form: Qiantang Lake screenshot… and here — again I take someone’s word for it — is a literal translation:

Gushan temple north Jiating west Water surface first flat cloud base low Several places early orioles fight warm tree Every house new swallows peck spring mud Disordered flowers gradually almost confuse person eye Light grass able hide horse hoof Most love lake east go not enough Green poplar shade in white sand causeway

Here is a close translation — translator unknown — and here is another translation by David Lunde.

Image: After the Rain by Flickr user TumblingRun (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]).

 

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