Spring Thoughts (Li Bai)

Grass ripples like jade-colored silk,
mulberry trees hang boughs of green.
By the time you long for home, dear,
my heart will have already broken.

Strangers with the spring breeze
what business does it have
parting my bedside curtains?

Classical Chinese poetry is quite difficult to capture in translation, but I’ve always felt the sentiment and imagery in this poem from Li Bai (Li Po; 705 – 762) bridges the cultural and linguistic gaps better than most. The poem is written from the perspective a woman whose husband is away indefinitely. Perhaps he’s away at war, or perhaps traveling for other reasons and simply enjoying himself – for me the words imply the latter, as the narrator imagines that his thoughts have yet to return home.


For those interested in the Chinese, a direct word-for-word translation is as follows:

Yan Yan
cao grass
ru like
bi jade, blue-green
si silk, thread
Qin Qin
sang mulberries
di hang
绿 green
zhi branch
Dang When
jun gentleman [you]
怀 huai think
gui return
ri day
shi is
qie wife [I]
duan break
chang intestine
shi time
Chun Spring
feng wind
bu not
xiang each other
shi know
he what
shi business
ru enter
luo gauze
wei curtains

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