17 Songs by the Riverbank in Autumn


The following is my translation of Tang poet Li Bai’s (701-762) Poem No 15 from 17 Songs by the Riverbank in autumn:


White hair ten thousand metres* long,

Just like the length of my sorrow.

Inside the clear mirror is seen,

Autumn frost from somewhere unknown.


*In the original poem, the unit of measure used is 3,000 ‘zhang’ (and one ‘zhang’ is approximately three-and-a-half metres.

Ode: Lantern Festival

A set of Lyrics written by Song dynasty poet Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072) is named simply “Lantern Festival”. Here’s my translation:


On the night of Lantern Festival last year,

The flower fair was bright as daylight.

Above the willows rose the moon,

And a date was made for after dark.

On the night of Lantern Festival this year,

The moon and lights are bright like before.

My love of yore is seen no more,

My shirt sleeves wet with tears in spring.

Drinking Under The Moon


With a jug of wine among flowers,

Alone I drink, unaccompanied.

Inviting the moon with my raised cup,

And my shadow a party of three.

The moon doesn’t understand drinking,

Shadow follows me whe’er I go.

The moon and shadow my companions,

Will enjoy life while we’re still young.

I sing in the lingering moonlight,

I dance with my shadow all over.

We are joyous when we are sober,

But go our separate ways when we’re drunk.

A wanderer ever passionless,

May just meet a partner in the clouds.

Ugly Slave

Xin Qiji (1140-1207) may not be as well known as some other Song dynasty poets, but I find Ugly Slave (my translation) cute:


The youth knows not the taste of sorrow,

Loves to climb the towers,

Loves to climb the towers.

Just spouting sorrow arbitarily in verses.

Having experienced the taste of sorrow,

On the tip of the tongue,

On the tip of the tongue.

Instead say, “What a fine, cool autumn day”.

Prelude to Water Melody

Song dynasty poet Su Shi, better known as Su Dongpo (1036-1101), wrote these Lyrics while he was drunk and missing his younger brother (Su Zhe) on the Mid-Autumn Festival of the year Bingzhen (1076).

I decided to do a translation of this very famous Lyrics because I like the late superstar Teresa Teng’s rendition, which has been covered by many other well-known singers, such as Faye Wong.

Prelude to Water Melody


When will the bright moon appear?

I raise my wine cup to ask the blue sky.

Not knowing the celestial palaces up high,

Nor what year it is tonight.

I wish to ride away with the wind and return,

Yet dread the beautiful jade towers,

So high up, unable to withstand the icy cold.

Dancing with my clear shadows,

What could be better in this earthly life?

Around the red pavilion,

Through the low laced windows,

Shining on the sleepless.

There is no room to grudge,

But why is she full when we’re apart?

We experience sadness, happiness, separation and reunion,

The moon can be dim or bright, full or crescent,

There can never be perfection.

Hoping we all enjoy long lives,

And share the lovely moonlight though we’re far apart.

View From The Tower


It took me a while to translate this Verse from Song dynasty poet Liu Yong (987-1053):


View From The Tower


Alone I lean against the balustrade on a high tower,

With breeze bently blowing.

Peering into the distance,

Spring brings a skein of sorrow,

Indistinct from the far horizon.

Grass looks ashy in the fading light.

No one would know my unspoken feelings from the way I lean.

Planning to become wild and drunk.

Treating wine as songs,

Forcing myself to be merry.

Clothes and belts getting loose but nary a regret.

It is worth becoming haggard for her.

Song of the Begonia


A poet of the Song Dynasty, Liu Ke Zhuang (1187-1269) wrote Lyrics to a Song of Divination, with the title of


Song of the Begonia*


Petals light as wings of butterflies,

Flowers scattered llike scarlet dots.

Heaven doesn’t cherish flowers,

But countless varieties still charm.

Flourishing at daybreak on tree tops,

Few remain by dusk on the boughs.

When heaven cherishes flowers,

They’ll endure despite wind and rain.



*My translation



Phoenix Hairpin

Poets Lu You (1125-1210) and Tang Wen were deeply in love but forced by circumstances to divorce. They met again nine years later when Lu wrote Phoenix Hairpin on a garden wall and Tang replied with another. Here is my translation of their Song Verses:


Lu You’s Lyrics:


Fine, pink hands; yellow sealed wine –

The town is filled with Spring’s colours but

The willows remain trapped within the palace.

Fine east winds, short happiness –

Gloomy spirits, separated for years.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!


Same old Spring, haggard looks,

Silk handkerchief stained pink with tears.

Peach blossoms fall, ponds and pavilions empty.

Oaths and promises remain but brocade undelivered.

No! No! No!


Tang Wan’s reply:


Sympathy is lacking, people are unkind,

Rain at dusk cause flowers to tumble.

Dry whipping winds, drying sad tears.

Wishing to unfold matters of the heart,

Murmuring alone by the banister.

Hard! Hard! Hard!


On our separate ways, we’re now different from before,

The ailing spirit often drifts and sways like the swing.

Cold horn signals, night will soon end.

Fear of being questioned,

Tears are awallowed to feign contentment.

Pretend! Pretend! Pretend!