Spring Time in Chinese Verse

The classic Chinese poets experienced the world sensitively, perceiving its essential qualities, which led to an expression of deep insights translated into poetical language that over the ages evoked deep meaning and beauty. The change of seasons is conceived as a creative harmony originating from the constantly changing and transforming interactions between yin (阴) and yang (阳). It is a song of life and speaks of the dynamic processes of nature and life.

Spring is the natural season of life pregnancy, of promise, of beauty and of renewal. Flowers and a gentle breeze or rain are the soul of spring. The beauty of springtime is that it can offer the possibility to harmonise human experiences and feelings, either happiness or sadness, as coming up unavoidably in the reality of becoming and change.

Copyright: Beijng Longquan Monastry (北京龙泉寺)

Li Bai (李白 701-762), perhaps the greatest poet of the Tang dynasty (唐朝 618-907), brilliant, free-spirited and insouciant, spoke about such feelings in an evocative poem about the Laolao Ting Pavilion (《劳劳亭》):

Láo láo tínɡ
劳 劳 亭
Laolao Ting Pavilion
Tiān xià shānɡ xīn chù,
天 下 伤 心 处,
Which place under heaven most hurts the heart?
Láo láo sònɡ kè tínɡ.
劳 劳 送 客 亭。
Laolao Ting Pavilion, for seeing visitors off.
Chūn fēnɡ zhī bié kǔ,
春 风 知 别 苦,
The spring wind knows the sorrow of parting,
Bù qiǎn liǔ tiáo qīnɡ.
不 遣 柳 条 青。
The twig of the willow will never again be green.

The poet might also experience the spring as a tender companion who understands his feelings of longing, saying goodbye, and being alone. The spring wind might absorb all human noise and music, as expressed in Li Bai’s poem Hearing a flute on a Spring Night in Luoyang (春夜洛城闻笛 Chūnyè Luòchénɡ Wén Dí):

Chūn yè luò chénɡ wén dí
春 夜 洛 城 闻 笛
Hearing a flute on a Spring Night in Luoyang
Shuí jiā yù dí àn fēi shēnɡ,
谁 家 玉 笛 暗 飞 声,
From whose home secretly flies the sound of a jade flute?
Sàn rù chūn fēnɡ mǎn luò chénɡ.
散 入 春 风 满 洛 城。
It is lost amid the spring wind filling the city of Luoyang.
Cǐ yè qǔ zhōnɡ wén zhé liǔ,
此 夜 曲 中 闻 折 柳,
In the middle of his nocturne I remember the broken willow,
Hé rén bù qǐ ɡù yuán qínɡ!
何 人 不 起 故 园 情!
What person would not start thinking about home?

Copyright: Li Shujun (李树军)

The final poem has been written by Du Fu (杜甫 712-770) also a great poet from the Tang dynasty and a good friend of Li Bai. He is known as the ’Poetry Sage(诗圣 Shīshènɡ)’, full of Confucian wisdom. He spent many years living in poverty, wandering through the country. The poem describes a quiet drizzle, so characteristic of a spring night, which is symbolic for the most precious virtue of mankind. The spring rain falls quietly during the night when people are asleep:

Chūn yè xǐ yǔ
春 夜 喜 雨
Spring Rain During the Night
Hǎo yǔ zhī shí jié,
好 雨 知 时 节,
The spring rain, full of goodness,
Dānɡ chūn nǎi fā shēnɡ.
当 春 乃 发 生。
Knows that she is needed.
Suí fēnɡ qián rù yè,
随 风 潜 入 夜,
When, during the night, with a gentle breeze,
Rùn wù xì wú shēnɡ.
润 物 细 无 声。
She is touching the earth tenderly.
Yě jìnɡ yún jù hēi,
野 径 云 俱 黑,
The paths in the fields are hardly visible,
Jiānɡ chuán huǒ dú mínɡ.
江 船 火 独 明。
Only the lights on the riverboats are shining.
Xiǎo kàn hónɡ shī chù,
晓 看 红 湿 处,
The next morning, everything is drenched and vibrant,
Huā zhònɡ jǐn ɡuān chénɡ.
花 重 锦 官 城。
Jin Guan is blanketed with fresh flowers.

(Translated by Xiaoling Liu and Jan B.F.N. Engberts)