One hundred and twenty steps west of a small mound, through a grove of bamboos, hearing the water ringing as jade bracelets cuddling, I was delighted. Hewing the bushes, finally, I saw the petit tarn with azure water. The underside was of calm pebbles, while the shore was of turned ones, forming islets, terrains, cairns, and cliffs. The environ was of trees and vines, all green. Weaving, entwining, oscillating, and hanging, although different shapes, they danced with the wind. 


Roughly a hundred fish in the petit tarn, freely as they were swimming in the open air. The sunlight pierced the surface, casting fish-shadows to the underside pebbles. Quietly, the fish were motionless; quickly they dashed away—as a play with us.


Try a panorama of the stream to the southeast—crooked as BeiDou[1] or a serpent. So vague; the bank—crooked as the teeth of a dog. So vague to know its origin.


I sat by the petit tarn, surrounded by the grove. Isolated, chill to the bones, I turned melancholy, collected. For this extreme loneliness, resting no longer, I recorded and left.


With me were Wu Wuling, Gong Gu and Zongxuan, my brother. And two other companions were the Cui boys, called Shuji and Fengyi.


[1] The Big Dipper or the Plough. 

Original ↓








Translator's Note

As a native Chinese speaker and student of classical Greek and Latin poetry, I am interested in using translation to bridge different language families. I consider Classical Chinese prose through the lens of ancient Greek and Latin poetics mediated by English.

One of the differences between these classical poetic traditions is the way they create rhythm through the arrangement of phonetic syllables, on the one hand based on a tonal system (in the case of classical Chinese), and on the other, a system of long and short vowels (in Greek and Latin poetry).  As a descendant of Indo-European language, English still carries the system of phonetic syllables which played a significant role in the metrical rhythms of ancient Greek and Roman poetries. As an example, the standard meter of epic poetry in  Greek and Latin is dactylic hexameter, comprised of fixed units of long and short syllables repeated six times per line. On the other hand, prosody in classical Chinese and modern Chinese focuses on individual word/tone. For example, each Chinese phoneme can be expressed in four different tones, rending different meanings to each. In the Song Dynasty, when 词 (Ci)—a traditional lyric form using fixed rhythms and fixed tone patterns -- reached its heyday, each Ci must be composed in a set tune with a different name.

To explore the connection I see between these different systems of meter/rhythm, my own translation uses lines with a fixed number of syllables I selected lines from Petit Tarn that followed the traditional pattern of seven-character linked verse 七言 (Qiyan jueju) and I translated them into English dactylic hexamter.  For example, the line “潭中魚可百許頭,皆若空游無所依is comprised of two seven-character phrases, and I translated the first line into a 11-syllabic English sentence, followed by another 12-syllabic line.

In addition to using rhythm, tone, and meter to bridge the gaps between Classical Chinese and ancient Greek and Latin poetry, I also use literary devices. One of my favorite literary devices of classical Greek and Latin poetry is the clever usage of chiasmus and synchysis, where syntactic ordering of words in a line or sentence (A-B-B-A and A-B-A-B) allows the author to create distance or proximity between characters, objects, or words. Though chiasmus and synchysis are not traditional features of classical Chinese poetry, I try to recreate their effect in my own translation, as a nod to these other ancient traditions. Thus I translate the line “斗折蛇行,明滅可見。其岸勢犬牙差互,不可知其源  via a synchysis: “So vague; the bank—crooked as the teeth of a dog. So vague to know its origin to convey the vagueness and entanglement of both stream and bank.

Though my translation is not perfect, I hope my approach helps to explore the gap between classical poetic traditions and inspires others to do the same.

Mufeng Zhou


In the Classroom

Environmental Diversion: Venture into the closest natural landscape, be that a local body of water, a park, a garden, or a window box. Bring a journal in which to record your surroundings, trying to capture not only the visual experience but also sensations of sound, smell, temperature, and whatever else you notice around you, just as Mufeng Zhou's translation moves through the sonic, visual, and tactile experiences of the narrator.
Bonus points if you make it a group outing and writing activity.