25 July 2021

劉長卿 Liu Changqing: 送方外上人 Farewell to the Venerable Buddhist Monk

Here is another beautiful little poem (a 5-character quatrain) by Liu Changqing.  I hope you will enjoy both the original poem and my rendition of it.  

Liu Changqing (714-790): Farewell to the Venerable Buddhist Monk


1                A solitary cloud, a crane in the wild,

2                How would you ever, among folks, abide?

3                I pray you buy not: the hills in Wozhou

4                Where folks profane, already reside.  


Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發

28 June 2021 (revised 29.6.2021; 2.7.2021)

Translated from the original - 劉長卿: 送方外上人


1                孤雲將野鶴

2                豈向人間住

3                莫買沃洲山

4                時人已知處




*Form, Metre, and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain with a semantic pause after the second character.  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 feet or beats) with a medial caesura (or pause) after the second beat.  The rhyme scheme is xAxA as in the original.


*Title:  方外 means “not of (outside) the secular world” and is rendered as “Buddhist Monk”.  上人 (upper; man) is rendered as “the Venerable”.


*Line 1:  is taken to be the conjunction “and”, and not the verb “to carry”.  It is simply rendered with a comma between “cloud” and “crane”, which obviates the word “and”.  Both the “cloud” and the “crane” are metaphors referring to the Buddhist Monk (the “you” in line 2).  Line 1 can also be rendered as “You’re a solitary …” discarded for brevity.


*Lines 3 and 4:  In line 3, I have rendered 沃洲山 (Wozhou; mountain) as “the hills in Wozhou”.  In line 4, I have rendered 時人 (men of the current time) as “folks profane”, with “of the current time” taken as understood and not translated, and with “profane” (which means “secular, lay, common” -- Shorter Oxford) added.  and in line 4 are readily understood respectively as “already” and “know”.  in line 4 can be understood as either the noun “place” or the verb “to dwell, live, or inhabit”.  Taking as “place”, the advice in lines 3 and 4 can be interpreted as: (i) Don’t buy those “places” in Wozhou which are already known to men of the world! or (ii) Don’t buy any hill in Wozhou, as Wozhou is a “place” already known to men of the world!  The key word in these 2 interpretations of line 4 is the word “know” which does not seem to fit into the context of the poem which is about “to abide” or “to dwell” (see line 2).  Now, taking as “to dwell”, the advice in the same two lines can be interpreted as: (iii) Don’t buy those hills in Wozhou which are already (known to and) inhabited by men of the world! or (iv) Don’t buy the hills of Wozhou, as Wozhou is already (known to and) inhabited by men of the world!  For this rendition, I have decided for (iii) and have rendered line 4 as “Where folks profane, already reside” without translating the word “know” as “to reside” presumes and embodies “to know”.   


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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