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ZHANG RUOXU Chang Jo-Hsü (c. 660-c.720)

Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

Zhang Ruoxu is a poet about whom little knowledge has survived. Along with He Zhizhang (659-744), he achieved fame as a poet as one of a group of four poets from the Lower Yangtze Basin (the group was known as the “Four Scholars from Wuzhong,” and also included Zhang Xu, and Bao Rong). Only two of his poems survive, but one of them, “Spring, River, and Flowers on a Moonlit Night,” is so admired that he has become a famous poet on the basis of this poem alone.

Spring, River, and Flowers on a Moonlit Night

The tide in the Spring river meets the flat ocean.
On the sea a bright moon is born with the tide
And shimmers along the waves for thousands of miles.
Nowhere on the Spring river is without bright moon.

The river meanders through fragrant fields
And in the flowering woods moon makes everything snow,
Until even frost flowing in space is invisible
And on the shores white sands disappear in light.

River and sky merge in one dustless color.
Bright, bright sky, with only the moon's wheel.
Who first saw the moon on this riverbank?
What year did this river moon first shine on men?

Generations keep passing without end,
But the river moon looks the same year after year.
I don't know who the river moon is waiting for;
I only see the long river seeing off the flowing water.

One scarf of white cloud fades into distance,
Leaving unbearable sorrow in the estuary's green maples.
Whose husband is drifting away in a flat boat tonight?
Who is missing her lover in a moonlit tower?

What a pity, the moon wandering through the tower;
It should light the mirror-stand of the traveler.
She cannot roll it up in the jade door's blinds;
Or wipe it from the rock where she beats clothes clean.

At this moment, they see the same moon, but cannot hear each other,
She wishes she could flow with the moonlight onto him.
The wild goose flying off cannot escape this light,
When fish and dragons leap and dive I read patterns in the waves.

Last night she dreamed of fallen petals in a still pool.
What sorrow: with spring half over, the man hasn't returned.
The current has almost washed the Spring away,
And the setting moon tilts west again in the river pool.

The slanting moon sinks deep, deep into the sea fog.
Between the Brown Rock and the Xiang River is a long way
And I don't know how many people ride the moonlight home.
The setting moon fills the river trees with shivering emotion.

Note: “Spring, River, and Flowers on a Moonlit Night,” stanza 6. Traditionally, Chinese women wash clothes by a stream or river by beating the clothes on a rock with a wooden club, and in Chinese poetry the sound of beating clothes typically generates homesickness.