Okay boys and girls, let’s go for the challenge round and see if we can tackle a classical Chinese poem from the Tang Dynasty. This one is by Du Fu and is called “Looking to Spring.” Du Fu, a government official, wrote it while being held captive by rebels in a rebellious city. Below is my interpretive translation:
Looking to Spring
The country is routed, but the rivers and hills remain,
It’s spring in the city, and the plants are vibrant and green.
Feeling the season, the flowers are sprinkled with tears—
Starting the heart, a mourning bird departs.
Beacon lights have fired for three months, unstopped,
And family letters—worth thousands in gold.
I scratch my head—white, thin,
Mixed in desire to bear my hairpin.
The poem is basically about a scholar and government official’s sadness at seeing his country torn apart by civil war, but meanwhile he has grown old and feels helpless to do anything about it. The title can be translated “Spring View” but the second character can also have the connotation of “looking forward to” or “hoping” and thus gives a sense of irony with the situation, as does “spring,” which usually has a sense of renewal. It could also reflect the poet’s latent hope that his country will heal.
The first two lines contrast the destruction of war with the permanence of nature and the vibrancy of spring. The second two lines connect nature with the sad human-made situation: the flowers have tears and the birds are mourning (also can be translated as feeling regret).
The fifth and sixth lines say that the war has gone on for three months (beacon lights were used as signal fires between army camps) and hearing news from his family has become priceless. There are several connotations with that: being a prisoner, he naturally wants to hear from his family; war makes it difficult to communicate with loved ones; and the contrast of peaceful time with those he loves compared to the violence all around him.
The last two lines denote him getting older, wondering what to do, but unable to do anything. His hair has grown thin, either with age or from rubbing it constantly trying to think of what to do, and now it can barely even hold his hairpin, which was used at the time by government officials to hold their caps.
Original (in Simplified Chinese):
guó pò shān hé zài
chéng chūn cǎo mù shēn
gǎn shí huā jiàn lèi
hèn bié niǎo jīng xīn
fēng huǒ lián sān yuè
jiā shū dǐ wàn jīn
bái tóu sāo gèng duǎn
hún yù bù shēng zān
Country damaged mountains rivers here
City spring grass trees deep
Feel moment flower splash tears
Regret parting bird startle heart
Beacon fires join three months
Family letters worth ten thousand metal
White head scratch become thin
Virtually about to not bear hairpin