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Mooring at Night by Maple Bridge

A crow cries, the moon sets in a frost filled sky
River Maple and fishing boat lights keep company on a sorrowful night
At Hanshan Temple outside Gusu
On my boat, a midnight bell rings for me

fēng qiáo yè bó

yuè luò wū tí shuāng mǎn tiān
jiāngfēng yú huǒ duì chóu mián
gūsū chéng wài hánshān sì
yè bàn zhōng shēng dào kè chuán

Maple Bridge

The frosty night was inky black

The moon has set and there is frost in the air. The lights from the fishing boats glitter like dancing fireflies. I was looking for a poem for November and came across this charming but melancholy piece by Tang poet Zhang Ji (張繼, 712-790). His bronze statue can be found at the Maple Bridge in Gusu modern day Suzhou .

Zhang Ji

Our new poet Zhang Ji is an enigma, sometimes confused with a later Tang poet of the same name. This Zhang Ji was born in Hubei province. He failed the Imperial examinations twice, before passing the examination on his third attempt in 753. Some have speculated that he wrote the poem after failing the examination. An argument could be made that he wrote it in 753 after passing the examination. He was then a lonely traveler on his way down the Yangtze, heading to Shanghai, then by boat north to the Imperial capital at Chang’an.

Notes on Translation

Gusu, the ancient capital of the State of Wu. The name was later became Suzhou. The name Gusu now refers to a district in the city center. Hanshan, a Buddhist temple next to a canal dividing the city center. Jiangfeng are River Maples, also called Silver Maple, the frosty leaves would glisten in the dark.

Wū tí, a crow cries, a foreboding of bad things to come. Yèbàn zhōng, the midnight bell. This reminds me of John Donne’s well-known poem and the oft used phrase, “beware, the bell tolls for thee.”

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