Ancient Chinese Prose





夫天地者,萬物之逆旅。光陰者,百代之過客。而浮生若夢,為歡幾何?古人秉燭夜游,良有以也。況陽春召我以煙景,大塊假我以文章。會桃李之芳園,序天倫之 樂事。群季俊秀,皆為惠連;吾人詠歌,獨慚康樂。幽賞未已,高談轉清。開瓊筵以坐花,飛羽觴而醉月。不有佳作,何伸雅懷?如詩不成,罰依金谷酒數。

Preface to the Feast in Peach and Plum Garden on a Spring Night

Li Bai

Tr.  E. C. Chang

The universe is a temporary inn for all living things. Time is the transit visitors over the span of one hundred generations. This drifting life is like a dream. There is too little time to enjoy the pleasure of living. Thus, it was quite appropriate for ancient people to, with candlelight in hand, roam at night. Now, the sunny spring draws my attention to the misty and beautiful scenes. The great earth inspires me to come up with ideas for my writings. Today we are so happy to gather in this fragrant garden of peach and plum trees. What a joy to recount the fun events in our family! You, my younger brothers, are so talented and gifted that you remind me of Weilian*. But in chanting poetry, I alone feel ashamed for not being on a par with Ling Yun**.

Before we are through with sightseeing, we change the subject of conversation from talking freely to more elegant topics. In the midst of blooming flowers, we hold our dainty feast. In moonlight, we pass our wine cups swiftly, from seat to seat, until we all feel tipsy. If we don’t compose a good poem for the occasion, how can we elegantly express our feelings? Anyone who fails to come up with a poem will be fined the number of drinks as agreed upon at Jin Gu Yuan***.
* Weilian refers to Xue Wei Lian (394-430), a talented man of letters and cousin of Xie Lingyun.

** Kanle refers to Xie Lingyun (385-433), a renowned man of letters, Xue Wei Lian’s cousin on the father’s side.

*** The rule stated that whoever failed to do so would be fined three drinks.

Note: English translation is provided for the convenience of bilingual readers whose mother tongue is not Chinese.



夫天地者,万物之逆旅。光阴者,百代之过客。而浮生若梦,为欢几何?古人秉烛夜游,良有以也。况阳春召我以烟景,大块假我以文章。会桃李之芳园,序天伦之 乐事。群季俊秀,皆为惠连;吾人咏歌,独惭康乐。幽赏未已,高谈转清。开琼筵以坐花,飞羽觞而醉月。不有佳作,何伸雅怀?如诗不成,罚依金谷酒数。

春夜宴桃李園序 (PDF)



山不在高,有仙則名。 水不在深,有龍則靈。斯是陋室,惟吾德馨。苔痕上階綠,草色入簾青。談笑有鴻儒,往來無白丁。可以調素琴,閱金經。無絲竹之亂耳,無案牘之勞形。南陽諸葛廬,西蜀子雲亭。孔子云:「何陋之有?」

My Humble House: An Inscription

written by Liu Yu Xi
tr. E. C. Chang

Mountains need not be high to be famous
if fairies are around.
Waters need not be deep to be enchanted
if hidden dragons are found.
Though this is a small and humble house,
it is filled with my virtue’s fragrance.
Traces of moss paint the steps in green.
Shining grasses send out their blue through the screen.
Great scholars often come to laugh and chat.
No shallow-minded persons are among my guests.
I can play the undecorated zither anytime.
Or, read the Buddhist Scripture to enrich my mind.
No unpleasant music to bombard my ears;
nor official paperwork to overwhelm my head.
Both Zhuge of Nanyang and Ziyan of Xishu once lived
in humble houses just like mine.
Confucius said, “You call it humble! Why ?”
Zhuge refers to Zhuge Liang, who was the prime minister of the Kingdom of Shu during the Three Kingdoms.
Ziyan refers to Yang Xiong, a well-known scholar of the Western Han, who wrote a book in a thatched house.





陶淵明     《歸去來兮辭》


Go Back to my Old Home! 

Tao Yuanming
Translated by E. C. Chang

Go back to my old home!
My fields and gardens will turn into a wasteland soon!
Why don’t I go home?
Didn’t I intend to serve my body with all my heart?
Why regret now and feel sad alone?

Learn from my past mistakes.
It is still time to change the direction before it is too late.
Actually, I have not gone astray very far.
I feel that I am making the right decision now
as I made a wrong one in the past.

The boat floats forward swiftly;
The wind blows my clothes gently.
“What road lies ahead?” I ask a wayfarer.
I wish the light at dawn could be a little brighter.

Suddenly, my humble house is in sight;
I run in a hurry with great delight.
My young servants come out to greet me.
My young children stand at the door waiting for me.

Weeds are all over the garden paths.
Pines and chrysanthemums are unscathed.
I hold my youngest one and walk inside.
I see a jar on the table filled with wine.

I fill the cup and drink the wine;
I casually look at the tree in the courtyard with a smile.
Leaning against the southern window, I feel a sense of pride,
I am content with this cozy place that will bring peace to my mind.

I enjoy my daily walk in the garden.
Although there is a door, it is usually not open.
Carrying a cane, I wander or rest anytime I like.
Occasionally I raise my head to look into the horizon or the sky.

Clouds drift freely and leisurely beyond the mountain.
When tired, birds know that it is time to return.
The sun gets dimmer at it sets at twilight.
I linger around and gently touch a lone pine.

Go back to my old home?
Stop traveling; stop socializing with others who sing a different tune.
I am at odd with this mundane world.
No longer do I need to ride in a carriage just to show I am a person of worth.

Heart-to-heart talks with my kin bring me joy every day.
Reading or playing my harp can keep my worries away.
When farmers tell me that spring has arrived,
It is time to get ready for farming by the western side.

I may choose to ride on a covered cart;
or row a small boat on the water.
I can walk through the winding paths to explore a deep valley.
Or walk over a road that is rugged and hilly.

Trees grow vigorously;
Spring water trickles sluggishly.
I envy that all living things flourish at the right time.
It saddens me to know that my life can come to an end anytime.

That’s enough!
How long do I remain part of the universe?
Why not just take it easy and learn to enjoy my inner peace?
Why put myself in a constant state of anxiety?

It is not my goal to seek wealth and power in life.
Nor it is my dream to search for something like a paradise.
On a fine day, I will go out alone and wander around.
Or, after planting my cane, I will pull out the weeds on the ground.

I can shout aloud on the mount beside the eastern marsh.
I can also compose a poem by a stream with clear water.
So let me content to live the rest of my life.
I will accept Heaven’s will without doubt in my mind.

陶淵明《歸去來兮辭》PDF Version

羲之     《蘭亭集序》



夫 人之相與,俯仰一世。或取諸懷抱,晤言一室之內;或因寄所託,放浪形骸之外。雖趣舍萬殊,靜躁不同,當其欣於所遇,暫得於己,快然自足,曾不知老之將至。 及其所之既倦,情隨事遷,感慨系之矣。向之所欣,俯仰之間,已為陳跡,猶不能不以之興懷。況修短隨化,終期於盡。古人云,“死生亦大矣。”豈不痛哉!


Preface to the Collection of Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion

Wang Xi Zhi
Translated by E. C. Chang

This is the ninth year of Yonghe (A.D. 353), or the year of Gui-Chou according to the lunar calendar. At the beginning of late spring, we gather at the Orchid Pavilion in Shanyin County of Kuaiji Prefecture to celebrate the Xi festival as a way to wash away ill-luck.

All participants, both young and old, are men of wisdom and talents.

This place is surrounded by lofty mountains, precipitous cliffs, dense forest, and tall slender bamboos. There is also a limpid stream running through with swift and torrential water. These scenic spectaculars merge together, from left to right, to form an enchanting sight.

We sit, in a predetermined order, around a winding water channel filled with stream water. A floating wine vessel is then placed on the water and allowed to drift downward.*

Although no instrumental music is provided to please the ears, wine drinking and poetry chanting alternately can help convey our inner feelings to the fullest.

On this particular day, the sky is clear, the air refreshing, and the gentle breeze is caressing.

Looking upward, we see the vastness of the universe. Looking downward, we can observe the variety and abundance of species. We can travel with our eyes as far as they can reach, or let our mind roam freely across the sky. Both our visual and auditory senses are fully stimulated. What a delightful experience!

Alas! When friends gather together, time fly as if a lifetime will be over in the twinkling of an eye! We may engage in heart-and-heart talks in the intimacy of a room; or we may go outside behaving in a way that is free from social restraints and inhibitions.
Although we differ widely in inclinations and temperaments, we all will be delighted when we like the way our life is heading. But by being so content with our temporary gains, we may fail to notice that old age is around the corner!
Then things change with the passage of time, we will get bored at what we do. As a result, we will be hit by a series of painful recollections.

Then, almost in the snap of fingers, past enjoyment will become a thing of the past. For that, how can we not be overwhelmed with emotions?

Moreover, our life, be it long or short, will come to an end when our time is up. “Life is such a serious matter!” as one ancient sighed. It is depressing just to think about it!

Whenever I ponder over the causes of human emotions in times of joy or sadness, I inevitably come up with the same conclusion. As I look at ancient people’s written words, I often feel moved and sigh. Yet I am not sure why I feel this way?

It would be preposterous to assume that life and death are considered the same thing. It would be equally absurd to equate longevity with premature death.

How people in the future look upon us will be just like how we look upon those in the past.

What a sad feeling! For reasons as stated, I am going to list today’s participants and record whatever they have composed.
Time and circumstances will change, but the reasons for expressing our thoughts and feelings transcend time and space. I am sure that readers of future generations will reflect with deep feelings on what is mentioned in this essay.
* Whenever the wine vessel stops, the person who sits in front of it is supposed to drink the wine and compose a poem on the spot.

PDF Version (Langtingxu)

滕王閣序 (上)  


南昌故郡,洪都新府。星分翼軫,地接衡廬。襟三江而帶五湖,控蠻荊而引甌越。物華天寶, 龍光射牛斗之墟;人傑地靈,徐孺下陳蕃之榻。雄州霧列,俊採星馳。臺隍枕夷夏之交,賓主盡東南之美。都督閻公之雅望,棨戟遙臨;宇文新州之懿范,襜帷暫 駐。十旬休假,勝友如雲;千里逢迎,高朋滿座。騰蛟起鳳,孟學士之詞宗;紫電青霜,王將軍之武庫。家君作宰,路出名區,童子何知,躬逢勝餞。
  時維九月,序屬三秋。潦水盡而寒潭清,煙光凝而暮山紫。儼驂騑于上路,訪風景于崇阿。臨 帝子之長洲,得天人之舊館。層臺聳翠,上出重霄;飛閣流丹,下臨無地。鶴汀鳧渚,窮島嶼之縈回;桂殿蘭宮,即岡巒之體勢。披繡闥,俯雕甍:山原曠其盈視, 川澤紆其駭矚。閭閻撲地,鐘鳴鼎食之家;舸艦迷津,青雀黃龍之軸。雲銷雨霽,彩徹雲衢。落霞與孤鶩齊飛,秋水共長天一色。漁舟唱晚,響窮彭蠡之濱;雁陣驚 寒,聲斷衡陽之浦。

PDF Version (Prince Teng's Pavilion: A Tribute)- Part A

Prince Teng's Pavilion: A Tribute

by Wang Bo

tr. E.C. Chang


Nanchang, the former capital, is now the administrative district of Hongzhou. Astronomically, Hongzhou is linked to the Yi and Zhen constellations (1). Geographically, Hongzhou is adjacent to Mt. Lu and Mt. Heng (2).

(1) Ancient people assumed that the sky was divided into 28 constellations. Each area on earth was influenced by a certain constellation.
(2) Mt. Heng, one of the Sacred Mountains, is in Hunan Province. Mt. Lu, now a famous resort, is in Jiangxi Province.

襟三江而帶五湖,控蠻荊而引甌越 。

It is strategically situated, with its three rivers forming like a garment, and its five lakes encircling like a belt. It is also close to the underdeveloped region of Jing, as well as the Ou Ye (3) area.

(3) Ou Ye refers to the areas of Eastern Zhejiang Province.


Hongzhou is blessed with all the best that could be derived from the sky and earth. No wonder the legendary sword could reflect its light all the way to the area influenced by the Niu and Dou constellations. With its outstanding people and enchanted land, even Chen Fan(4), a reluctant host, invited Xu Ru as guest to stay in his residence for the night.

(4) Chen Fan, the magistrate of the former prefecture in the East Han Dynasty, made special exception for the talented but poor Xu Ru to stay in his house for the night.


Hongzhou rises magnificently like the mist. Talented individuals come and go as though they were flying stars. This place is the divisional line between Central China and her less developed area. As a group, the hosts and guests, who are from the east and the south, are the very best to gather in one place.

都督閻公之雅望,棨戟遙臨;宇文 新州之懿範,襜帷暫駐。

They include the honorable Governor Lian, who has come with his honor guards from afar. The admirable Magistrate Yuwen, who is on the way to assume his new post in Xin Zhou (4), has temporarily halted his journey for this occasion.

(4) Xin Zhou was located in present-day Guangdong.


This gathering happens to coincide with the holiday that is observed every tenth day. For this reason, many distinguished guests are able to come, with some even coming from as far as a thousand li away. All seats are occupied by guests of distinction!


In writing skills and talents, they are as good as Master Meng, the acknowledged literary phoenix and dragon. Speaking of the martial arts and strategies of certain participants, General Wang comes to mind.

家君作宰,路出名區。童子何知?躬逢 勝餞

I happen to be on my way to visit my father who has recently become a county magistrate. As an immature young man, I feel honored indeed to take part in this festive occasion.


It is now the ninth lunar month in late autumn. As the rain water
has subsided, the deep pool appears cool and crystal clear. The hazy
mountains look purple under the evening sun.


By riding a carriage on the high road, we could enjoy the
mountainous scenes. Finally we are here at Prince Teng’s
long bank and his old pavilion in which he once resided.


Green ranges upon green ranges rise up to the skies. Corners of
cinnabar eaves, painted in smooth and bright color, seem ready to fly.
Looking down, we can see nothing but water.


The shores and islets, where cranes and wild ducks roam, twist and turn. Elegant courts and halls that are decorated with cassia and magnolia woods look as though they are pointed mountains.


When we push the embroidered door to open, we can see the
beautifully carved houses below. The magnificent view of
mountains and plains is a feast to the eyes. The rivers and
marsh open up such a stunning sight!


Everywhere residents are people of great wealth. Passenger boats
and warships line up around the wharf, with their sterns decorated
or painted in the shape of blue birds and yellow dragons.


The rain has stopped and the rainbow has subsided. The sky is clear and bright again. At sunset, the rosy clouds and a solitary duck seem flying together; the long sky emerges into one hue with the autumn water.


Songs and music from the fishing boat drift all the way to the banks of the Poyang Lake. Wild geese, flying in formation, cry in chill until they become silent around the shore of Hengyang.


As we look into the distance, we can’t help but feeling great
and joyful. Suddenly, our interests in literary and arts are being elevated.
When the panpipes bring out the music, wind starts to blow; when
the song lingers, the white clouds seem stop drifting.

睢 園綠竹,氣凌彭澤之樽;鄴水朱華,光照臨川之筆。

This banquet reminds us of the one at the Bamboo Garden. Speaking of the capacity for drinking, we are superior to Tao Yuanming. Our literary spirit and talents are comparable to Cao Zhi, whose poem in praise of the lotus flower trigger the thought of Xie Ling Yun’s beautiful writing.


Today both the “four beautiful elements” and the “two most wanted
components” are appreciatively made available to us. On a holiday,
what a joy to look at the sky as far as we can see!

The four beautiful ingredients are: beautiful day; beautiful scenery; joyfulness; happy event.
The two most wanted components are : good hosts and distinguished guests.


So high is the sky and so remote is the earth! How can I not be overwhelmed with emotion by the immensity
of the universe? The fact that sadness often follows happiness makes me feel that the ups and downs of life are arranged by fate.

望長安 於日下,指吳會於雲間。地勢極而南溟深,

I look into distance under the setting sun where Capital Chang’an
is thought to be located. I then look up at the clouds, imaging that
Wuhui may be somewhere in between. All the way from here to the
southernmost edge, we will inevitably face the deep and boundless sea.
While the pillar in the north is too high to reach, the North Star is too far
to get there.


It is difficult to climb over mountains upon mountains.
Who will pity you in the event that you do get lost!


Like duckweeds we happen to bump into each other. Just like our rootless
counterparts, we all are from other lands. It won’t do me any good by just
thinking about the palace. Then again, who knows when I will be summoned
to offer my service?


嗟 乎!時運不齊,命途多舛;馮唐易老,李廣難封。屈賈誼于長沙,非無聖主;竄梁鴻于海曲,豈乏明時。所賴君子安貧,達人知命。老當益壯,寧移白首之心;窮且 益堅,不墜青雲之志。酌貪泉而覺爽,處涸轍而猶歡。北海雖賒,扶搖可接;東隅已逝,桑榆非晚。孟嘗高潔,空余報國之心;阮籍倡狂,豈效窮途之哭!
   勃,三尺微命,一介書生。無路請纓,等終軍之弱冠;有懷投筆,愛宗愨之長風。舍簪笏于百齡,奉晨昏于萬里。非謝家之寶樹,接孟氏之芳鄰。他日趨庭,叨陪 鯉對;今茲捧袂,喜托龍門。楊意不逢,撫淩雲而自惜;鐘期相遇,奏流水以何慚。嗚呼!勝地不常,盛筵難再;蘭亭已矣,梓澤丘墟。臨別贈言,幸承恩于偉餞; 登高作賦,是所望于群公。敢竭鄙懷,恭疏短引;一言均賦,四韻俱成。


PDF Version (Prince Teng's Pavilion: A Tribute)- Part B


Alas! I am out of luck, and my life is full of frustrations. Feng Tang was already too old to serve when the opportunity came. Li Guang never got his due recognition before retirement.

屈賈誼於長沙,非無聖主;竄梁鴻於 海曲,豈乏明時?

When Jia Yi was forced to accept an undesirable job in Changsha, was it because there was no wise ruler? When Liang Hong had to hide himself near the coast, was it because there was no competent government?


Fortunately, a man of noble character will be happy to
lead a simple but virtuous life. A wise person understands
the will of Heaven.


The older we get, the stronger be our determination.
How can we change our mind simply because we now have white hair? The poorer we become, the firmer should be our aspiration. Don’t let our once soaring ambition fall from the sky!


Even if we happen to drink the spring water which may cause insatiable desires, we should still keep our integrity intact. In adversity, we should remain optimistic in outlook.

北海雖賒,夫搖可接;東隅已 逝,桑榆非晚。

The North Sea may be too far, but with the help of wind, we still can get there. Sunrise may be over, but sunset is still there for us.


With a noble character, Meng Chang did not fulfill his dream of serving the country. Ruan Ji, on the other hand, was so unrestrained that he resorted to crying when things did not go his way. Neither one is a good model to follow.


I am but an ordinary scholar with humble origin.
Although I am the same age as Zhong Jun when he
began to serve in the military, I am still waiting for that opportunity.


I should follow the example set by Ban Chao, who gave up his writing brush for the army. I also admire Zhong Que for his heroic spirit by turning back the tides.


To be around my father who is far away, I am willing to give up
a high position and a good salary for the rest of my life. Surely
I am not as talented as Xie’s children, but I do have good neighbors
with whom I can associate.


I am not lucky enough to run across someone like Yang Yi, whose recommendation changed someone’s future, but I can look at my own literary work with a sense of pride. Since I have already met someone like Zhong Qi, the great musician, I don’t need to feel embarrassed playing a similar song.


Alas! Beautiful scenery is not around all the time.
Sumptuous feasts will not repeat often. The event of
Orchid Pavilion is a thing of the past; the famous
Jingu Garden has now become the ruined relics.


I am so grateful to Governor Lian for his hospitality and for
asking me to write a farewell message. Now it is up to all
of you to compose a poem by ascending the tower.


With all humbleness and sincerity, let me take a lead by reciting my rhymed poem in eight lines . Here it is:



The pavilion of Prince Teng stands tall by the river.
No more jade-pendant tinkling and bell jingling;
singing and dancing are now over.


Morning clouds from the southern shore fly by
the painted pillars.
Evening rain comes to flap against the red curtains
from the western mountain.


With their shadows on the pond,
clouds drift everyday freely and leisurely.
Things have been replaced and stars have shifted.
So many autumns are gone with ease.


Where is the prince, for whom the pavilion was built, now?
Outside the railings the long river itself continues to flow.

江淹 別賦


黯然銷魂者,唯別而已矣!況秦吳兮絕國,復燕宋兮千里。或春苔兮始生,乍秋風兮蹔起。是以行子腸斷,百感悽惻。風蕭蕭而異響,雲漫漫而奇色。舟凝滯 於水濱,車逶遲於山側。櫂容與而詎前,馬寒鳴而不息。掩金觴而誰御,橫玉柱而霑軾。居人愁臥,怳若有亡。日下壁而沈彩,月上軒而飛光。見紅蘭之受露,望青 楸之離霜。巡曾楹而空揜,撫錦幕而虛涼。知離夢之躑躅,意別魂之飛揚。

pdf version


On Parting

by Jiang Yan (444—505)
tr. E. C. Chang

黯然銷魂者,唯別而已矣!況 秦、吳兮絕國,複燕、趙兮千里。

No life events other than parting can make one feel
so despondent, dispirited, and soul-wrenching!
Think about the remoteness of the states of Wu and Qin!
Think about a thousand li between Zhao and Yan!
The thought of the distance to travel could be overwhelming.


When spring mosses begin to grow,
or when autumn winds suddenly blow,
An event like this can break a traveler’s heart.
He is filled with mixed emotions to part.

風蕭蕭而異響,雲漫漫而奇色。舟凝滯于水濱,車逶遲於山側。棹容與 而詎前,馬寒鳴而不息。

The wind sounds differently as it soughs and sighs.
The clouds drift aimlessly in the colorful sky.
The boat moves around the shore sluggishly.
The carriage winds its way through the mountainside slowly.
The boatman appears reluctant to row.
The horse keeps neighing in the cold.


Just cover the wine cups!
Who now wants to pick them up?
With tears falling on the carriage’s crossbar,
who still has the mood to play the zither?
She at home will sleep with sorrow on her bed.
She will feel so down as if her loved one is dead.


The glow on the wall has vanished as the sun comes down.
The moonlight above the window seems flying around.
The red orchids appear moistened with dews.
The frosty Chinese catalpas are in full view.

巡層楹而空掩,撫錦 幕而虛涼。知離夢之躑躅,意別魂之飛揚。故別雖一緒,事乃萬族。

Walking back and forth, she finds the house appearing larger.
She feels so cold and emptied as she touches the screen later.
In her thought, he is loitering around in his dream.
His soul is trying to fly back while traveling.
Thus, the parting emotion may be the same,
but how it is expressed can be too numerous to name.


What about the kind of farewell party involving a steed
with painted axles and carved silver saddle?
The traveler and those who come to see him off
would drink in a canopy at the East capital.
Some send-off parties are held in the Jin Gu garden.


In such a party, one can hear the harmonious sound
Of the qin, flutes, and drums.
The beautiful girls of Yan and Zhao will sing their hearts out
with their parting songs.
In late autumn, pearls and jades appear especially shinning.
Those who wear silken dresses look beautiful in the spring.


The horses raise their heads while eating.
Fish in deep water keep their heads up by leaping
It is so hard to keep tears from falling when it is time to depart,
A sense of loneliness sets in after bidding farewell to each other.


Then, there are those swordsmen who feel ashamed
of failing to pay their debts to their debtors.
Also there are those young men determined
to return favors to their benefactors.
Examples can be seen in the States of Han and Zhao
where assassinations took place.
Similar events also occurred in both the Wu palace
and Yan market place. *

*In the State of Han, Nie Zheng (聶政) attempted to assassinate minister Xie Lei (俠累). In the State of Zhao, Yu Rang (豫讓) killed Zhao Xiangzi (趙襄子) in the lavatory. Also, Zhuan Zhu (專諸 )killed King Liao in the Wu palace. As a way to repay Prince Yan, Jing Ku (荊軻) attempted to kill the king of Qin.


To carry out their plots, they had to leave their parents and loved ones behind.
Fighting tears, they reluctantly said what could be the final goodbye.
Then in a swift motion they rode on the horseback,
and marched forward without looking back.
Only the flying dust could be seen from the back.


These warriors did not give up their own life just for the recognition.
They did so mainly for showing their gratitude and devotion.
At the sound of drums and bells, Wu Yang’s face
showed that he was so afraid.
Nie Zheng’s sister died when his body was placed
for public display.


Also, when negotiations fail and war breaks out
near the frontier,
enlisted men join the army by carrying their bows
and arrows below their heads.
The Liao River appears endlessly long;
Clouds shroud the Yan Mountains all around.


Yet, at home the breeze is so pleasant.
The green grass by the roadside emits fragrance.
When the sun rises, the dews on the ground look so radiant.
Even the dust looks brilliant under the morning sun.
At a time when spring is very much in the air,
how can one bear to say goodbye by breaking
a twig of peach or pear?
How can parents keep their tears
From falling down to their dress?


If one is bound for a state in a remote region,
The chance may be very slim for a reunion!
Looking at those tall native trees,
It is so hard to leave his loved ones behind!
When he stands on the Northern Bridge,
he could be saying the last goodbye!
The sadness is hard for those come to see him off to bear.
His relatives and friends can’t help shedding their tears.


Siting on the broken branches, they read their poetic lines.
Some may express their sorrows by drinking wine.
The traveler will deepen his sorrow when wild geese fly
southbound in the fall,
or, when the white frost starts to fall.
As he walks through the hilly and winding road, sorrowful feelings will arise.
He may feel that the river is endlessly long with no end in sight.


In the case when the couple is separated in distance:
he lives by the west side of the Zi River,
while she remains in the northern shore of the Yellow River.
They remember how they once dressed and washed up together
at sunrise;
or the fragrance of incent burning around the golden stove at night.
To search for an official rank a thousand li away, he must leave his home.
She is like a beautiful flower emitting its fragrance alone.


She feels bad for having no mood to play the zither.
For a long time, she has stopped going up to the gloomy tower.
The curtain has tarnished and faded in color.
In spring, only the green moss is in sight;
in autumn, the silken canopy reflects the clear moonlight.
So slow is the pace of the day as she sits on the summer mat!
In winter, the night seems so long in front of the lamplight.
After a song has been composed, she can shed no more tears.
With her only shadow, reading a roundabout poem can make her sad.


Suppose a Taoist in the Hua Mountain
wants to become an immortal
after taking the cinnabar prescription.
He continues to study and improve his techniques
until he could pass on his elixir of life to another person.
He would stay in his stone cavern
With no interest in the outside world
until he has refined his concoction.
Once he has become an immortal, he would ride
on the back of a crane and soar up to the sky.
A journey of ten thousand li would take place in just a few seconds.
A brief farewell would be equivalent to a thousand years for the earthy persons.
That’s why in our human world, we show our love at the parting time.
Who wouldn’t find it hard to leave our loved ones and friends behind!


There is no shortage of poems praising the herbaceous peony;
no lack of songs singing for the fair lady.
There are stories to tell about the beautiful Wei girls in Shuangzhong.
the same thing can be said about the young Chen ladies in Shanggon.
When the grass is so green and the water is so clean,
How can she not feel sad accompanying him
to the southern shore in spring?
When autumn dews look like pearls and the moon is so bright,
How can the parting sorrows be put into words at such a time?
The bright moon and white frost make us feel so short is our life.
Parting with our loved one will keep our thoughts lingering for a long time.


Therefore, each parting event is different,
and the number of causes may be in the thousands.
So long as there is parting, there is regret.
When there is regret, despondent and dejected feelings
Must be let out and expressed.
This could make one feel that his bones are weakened
And his heart is broken.


How can one describe vividly the parting emotions
and feelings of an eternal separation?
Nobody could, not even if one were equipped with:
the artful diction of Wang Bao and Yang Xiong;
the writing skills of Yuan An and Xu Le;
the ability and virtue of the Gold-Horse-Gate group;
the giftedness of those at Langtai;
the “cloud-soaring” skills of Sima Xiangru, and
the “dragon-craving” dexterity of Zou Shi.


江淹 南朝

試望平原,蔓草縈骨,拱木斂魂。人生到此,天道寧論。於是僕本恨人, 心驚不已,直念古者,伏恨而死。
至如秦帝按劍,諸侯西馳,削乎天下,同文共規,華山爲城,紫淵爲池。 雄圖既溢,武力未畢。方架黿鼉以爲梁,巡海右以送曰。一旦魂斷,宮車晚出。
若乃趙王既虜,遷於房陵。薄暮心動,昧旦神興。别豔姬與美女,喪金輿 及玉乘。置酒欲飲,悲來填膺。千秋萬歲,爲怨難勝。  
至如李君降北,名辱身冤。拔劍擊柱,弔影慚魂。情往上郡,心留雁門。 裂帛系書,誓還漢恩。朝露溘至,握手何言?
若夫明妃去時,仰天太息。紫台稍遠,關山無極。搖風忽起,日白西匿。 隴雁少飛,代雲寡色。望君王兮何期?終蕪絕兮異域。
至乃敬通見抵,罷歸田里。閉關卻掃,塞門不仕。左對孺人,右顧稚子。 脱略公卿,跌宕文史。齎志沒地,長懷無已。
及夫中散下獄,神氣激颺。濁醪夕引,素琴晨張。秋日蕭索,浮雲無光。 鬱青霞之奇意,入修夜之不暘。
或有孤臣危涕,孽子墜心。遷客海上,流戍隴陰。此人但聞悲風淚起。血 下蔚沾襟;亦複含酸茹歎,銷落湮沉。
若乃騎叠蹟,車屯軌;黄塵匝地,歌吹四起。無不煙斷火絕,閉骨泉里。 已矣哉!
春草暮兮秋風驚,秋風罷兮春草生。綺羅畢兮池館盡,琴瑟滅兮丘壟平。 自古皆有死,莫不飲恨而吞聲。


江淹 恨賦

On Regret by Jiang Yan

Tr. E. C. Chang


Look at the plain as far as you can see.
Human bones lie in the midst of tall weeds.
Old trees grow densely into arched shapes.
This surely looks like a ghostly haunted place.
If this turns out to be the way we would die,
Why bothers to talk about the truth of life?

於是僕本恨人, 心驚不已,直念古者,伏恨而死。

I am by nature a sentimental and regretful person.
It saddens me to come to such a location.
I feel bad for those ancients who lost their lives.
They carried with them regrets as they died.


When the Emperor of Qin signaled his intention by lifting his sword,
All feudal lords marched westward to advance his course.
After he had defeated his enemies and expanded his territories,
He firmly unified the regional customs and languages.
He designated Purple Abyss to be his pool and Mount Hua his wall.
The Emperor of Qin refers to Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇, 259-210 B. C.) who unified China under the Qin Dynasty.


Although he had fulfilled his ambition,
he did not want to give up his military expansion.
Soon after the installment of exotic beams was done,
he ordered explorations to the sea and bade farewell to the sun.
Alas, when his time came and he eventually died,
the imperial carriages would no longer go out on time!

若乃趙王既虜,遷於房陵。薄暮心動,昧旦神興。别豔姬與美女,喪金輿 及玉乘。

Then there was the story about ruler Zhao King.
After he was captured, he was forced to settle in Fanling.
He was so agitated in the evening;
so hard to calm his nerve in the morning.
No more beautiful concubines and court ladies!
No more valuable horses and golden carriages!
Zhao King refers to Zhao Qian, the ruler of the State of Zhao, who was captured by the State of Qin.


He wanted to intoxicate himself at the sight of wine.
Drinking was the only way to forget his miserable time.
From here to eternity,
regret and disappointment are a part of life.


What about Mr. Li, the general, with his back against the wall?
He had no choice but to surrender to his enemy to the north.
He was not only humiliated by those who insulted his name.
He was also wrongly accused for bringing his country shame.
Out of anger, he hit the pillar with his sword.
Looking at his own shadow, he felt shameful and appalled.
Li Ling, the Grandson of Li Guang, was the general of Western Han.

情往上郡,心留雁門。 裂帛系書,誓還漢恩。朝露溘至,握手何言?

He still emotionally attached to his former nation.
But he felt that he had to stay in Goose Gate for a good reason.
How could he explain his feelings on a goose-carrying paper?
He vowed that someday he would return his country a favor.
If, by chance, “morning dew” would suddenly come,
what words would he utter as he was given a warm welcome?


Then when the beautiful Court Lady Wang Zhao Jun
had to leave her country for the northern region.
Looking up at the sky, she heaved with a long sigh.
As her group travelled further away from the Purple Terrace,
no final destination but mountains and passes was in sight.
Strong wind suddenly blew far and near;
Day after day, the white sun descended to the west.
Wang Zhaojun (王昭君) was known as one of the Four Beauties of ancient China.

隴雁少飛,代雲寡色。望君王兮何期? 終蕪絕兮異域。

Geese turned few in number as the days went by.
Clouds became less and less colorful in the alien skies.
Would there still be hope for her to reunite with the emperor of Han?
Or would she be like the overgrown weeds dying in a strange land?


Unjustly dismissed, Feng Yuan returned to his native home to retire.
Shutting his door, he invited no guests and sought no political ties.
Everyday, he played with his young children and accompanied his wife.

Feng Yuan, also known as Feng Jing Tung, was a famous writer during the Eastern Han Dynasty.


He was outspoken in his remarks about the public officials;
He adopted no particular literary but his own unique style.
Alas, with so many talents, he could not fulfill his ambitions.
He was overwhelmed with regrets and disappointments.

及夫中散下獄,神氣激颺。濁醪夕引,素琴晨張。秋日蕭索,浮雲無光。 鬱青霞之奇意,入修夜之不暘。

When Ji Kang was unjustly jailed, he was so upset and agitated.
In the evening, he drank the unstrained wine;
He liked to play his plain zither at sunrise.
It was so desolate during autumn days
The drifting clouds appeared dark and gray.
He often found it so hard to fall asleep at night,
as his brilliant ideas could not be fulfilled for the rest of his life.
Ji Kang, a man of letters of the Wei Dynasty, was one of the so-called Seven Wise Men of the Bamboo Grove.


Finally, some low-key but overlooked officials felt sad with tears.
Some individuals from humble background felt unfairly treated and neglected?
Certain government officers were forced to resettle in an area close to the sea.
Those who were at odd with the court were banished to the frontiers.
In such a situation, the sound of wind could trigger one’s tears.
Or he might hurt himself with blood coming out to his dress.
He would repeatedly sigh with grudges in his mind.
All beautiful things now seemed to have vanished or declined.

若乃騎叠蹟,車屯軌;黄塵匝地,歌吹四起。無不煙斷火絕,閉骨泉里。 已矣哉!

Even if one were banished to
Where horses left their traces;
Or where tracks were formed due to non-stop carriages;
Or where dust frequently pervades in the air;
Or where the sound of singing could be heard everywhere,
At the end, all smokes and fires would vanish,
All men would eventually die with no one to spare.
Ah, what more can I say!

春草暮兮秋風驚,秋風罷兮春草生。綺羅畢兮池館盡,琴瑟滅兮丘壟平。 自古皆有死,莫不飲恨而吞聲。

As soon as spring grasses have withered, autumn winds start to blow.
Soon after autumn winds have subsided, spring grasses are poised to grow.
No more beautiful clothes can be seen;
No pools and houses will rise again.
No more mounds and graves in the same place.
No more musical instruments in display.
Ah, no one can live forever since ancient time!
Just bear with your regrets; swallow your anger and pride!

Fu (賦) is a Chinese literary form of rhymed prose akin to poetry.

Jiang Yan (444-504) is famous for his achievement in literature during the Southern Dynasties.

Translated by E. C. Chang. All Rights Reserved 2013