A Nighttime Gaze

A Nighttime Gaze

Bai Juyi (772-846)
The river wraps around the town’s cold edge,
Its sandbanks still with sitting birds of dusk—
Alone on top this building perched up high,
I gaze southwest, where mountains drop to dust.

Wǎn Wàng
Bái Jūyì
Jiāng chéng hán jiǎo dòng
Shā zhōu xī niǎo huán
Dú zài gāo tíng shàng
Xī nán wàng yuǎn shān

Transliteration and Notes
Night Gazing
River town cold corners astir
Sand bank dusk birds still
Alone at high pavilion above
West south gaze far mountain
     The character for “gaze” could have the meaning of “full moon,” but is probably just “gaze” here. “West south” is “southwest.”
     Bai Juyi had a successful government career. Despite early missteps resulting in exile, he ultimately served as governor of Hangzhou and Suzhou. He one of the most prolific Tang poets, with over 2,800 known poems to his name, and was famous for his direct and easy-to-understand style of poetry, as exemplified in this poem. Bai supposedly rewrote any verse his servants could not understand in order to make it more accessible; and he copied the poems and distributed them to many people, ensuring their survival. Though disliked by some of the literati of his time, Bai’s poetry was popular during his lifetime and he remains one of the most popular classical poets in China.

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