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Yuan Zhen – 元稹

All water is forgettable when you’ve seen the vast blue sea
No clouds so wondrous as those at Mt. Wushan
Idly, I pass by some flowers without looking back
Partly to study Tao, partly to think of you


Grief, we learn in time, is just a part of love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot.

After his wife’s death, Yuan Zhen (779-831) wrote a series of poems. This is the fourth of five. The ocean is vast and blue but not as deep as Yuan Zhen’s love for his departed wife. No clouds s wondrous as the love Yuan Zhen felt in the mists on the summit of Mt. Wushan. His grief so painful that he can not face the fairest of flowers. And remembering only brings sorrow.

Notes on Translation

Yuan Zhen married Wei Cong when he was 20 and she was twenty. At twenty-seven, she died of a miscarriage. During the seven years of their married life, the young couple experienced poverty and setbacks.

The Title

离思, Lí sī, from the title, literally thinking of our parting, which I changed to thinking of you.

The Quatrain

沧 海cānghǎi. The vast blue sea; 巫 山, Wūshān, Mt Wushan and the beautiful Wushan gorge is often covered in mists and clouds, Yuan Zhen had visited the area, possibly with his wife; 花 丛, huācóng, something as simple as a clump of flowers growing in a field; 修 道, xiū dào, to study Taoism, to meditate or pray. As the study of Tao suggests, Yuan Zhen is caught between the pure emotion of his grief and his desire to see his wife’s face in the beauty of the flowers.

Chinese and Pinyin

离思 五 首(其四)

曾 经 沧 海 难 为 水
除 却 巫 山 不 是 云
取次 花 丛 懒 回 顾
半 缘 修 道 半 缘 君

Lí sī wǔ shǒu (qí sì)

Céng jīng cānghǎi nán wéi shuǐ,
Chú què wūshān bú shì yún.
Qǔ cì huācóng lǎn huí gù,
Bàn yuán xiū dào bàn yuán jūn.

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