Sunset river

Bai Chiyi

A trail of sun runs over the water

spreading rubies and emerald

This third night of the

Ninth Month brings a sadness

with the dew like pearls and

the moon a silver bow

– Francis Chin, May 12 2007,
the sentimental ideology of everyday living

The poem was probably written in 822 CE when Bai Chi Yii 白居易 , age 50, was Prefect of Hangzhou. Away from the capital with its stressful court politics, Bai could relax and enjoy nature and here he simply recorded his true feelings.

Not everyone would agree with my free translation, of course. The literal rendering is:

A path of pale sun paves the water
Half the river is crimson and half emerald
Thinking back on this third night of the Ninth Month
With the dew like pearls and the moon a bow.

Bai Chiyi, 772-846, wrote poems that quickly set you in a mood of gentle melancholy and receptive nostalgia. The rhyming lines in Chinese (a-a-b-a) are easy to memorise and easy to recite. Indeed you could even set this poem to rap music.

Painting by Li Fu Yuan.

Note: the official China Pinyin spelling of the poet’s name is Bai Juyi. Readers unfamiliar with the unusual phonetics, would end up pronouncing it as “bye-joo-ye”, which really sounds yucky!

Contents | Bai Chiyi’s Song of the Pipa | Song of Eternal Sorrow

Yellow moon over a river town, by Li Fu Yuan