Mastering Chinese Poetry Ep28: Song of Hawthorn

Today is the Lantern Festival. The 15th day of Zheng Yue – the first lunar month – is traditionally considered to be the final day of Spring Festival and represents people's hopes for a good life.

For the ancient Chinese, the lanterns shining during the festival are only rivaled by the moon in their radiance. The two illuminations have inspired countless poets and scholars to write verses and prose throughout Chinese history.

As poems have been handed down through the generations, the moon and the lanterns have become inseparable themes during the Lantern Festival. In Episode 28 of Mastering Chinese Poetry, CGTN will share a classic Song "ci" poem: Tune: Song of Hawthorn, by Ouyang Xiu (960 AD-1279 AD), which gives you a glimpse of how these objects have cast light on Chinese culture.

Tune: Song of Hawthorn

Last year on lunar festive night,

Lanterns' mid blooms shone as daylight.

The moon rose atop willow tree;

My lover had a tryst with me.

This year on lunar festive night,

Moon and lanterns still shine as bright.

But wher's my lover of last year?

My sleeves are wet with tear on tear.

(Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

yuè shàng liǔ shāo tóu,


rén yuē huáng hūn hòu.


This poem is one of Ouyang Xiu's iconic works and it has profound meaning. It is relatively unknown, even among Chinese, that the Lantern Festival is the Chinese equivalent of Valentine's Day. These two lines depict a scene from a date on the night of Lantern Festival under a shining moon and a willow tree. They could also depict ardent love, which shows the author's attitude toward the true meaning of love.

bú jiàn qù nián rén,


lèi shīchūn shānxiù.


But wher's my lover of last year? My sleeves are wet with tear on tear. These two final sentences use direct language to depict one who is desperately and helplessly missing past lovers.

These two sentences seem negative and pessimistic, but they're actually not. They show that the author knows the true nature of life, that he knows flowers will wither, and that spring will end. Even though he knows this, he still holds this genuine and persistent attitude toward life. His persistence makes him affectionate. That's the most charming quality of Song Dynasty poets like Ouyang Xiu.

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