Archive for 柳宗元


In which I talk about my second 漢詩. This one is by 柳宗元, who ranks along with 白居易 as one of the most famous Chinese poets and was most adept at poems dealing with nature. While short, 江雪 is a beautiful poem, evoking feelings of serenity and loneliness. It is also a good poem to use to describe the depth of 漢詩.

江雪 柳宗元

独 孤 万 千
釣 舟 径 山
寒 蓑 人 鳥
江 笠 蹤 飛
雪 翁 滅 絶


As we saw with the first poem, 白居易’s 香炉峰下、新卜山居、草堂初成、偶題東壁, some liberties are taken with the word order that would otherwise be more linear were it prose. Of course, this is a poem, so we wouldn’t have it any other way, now would we?

Some notes:
千山鳥飛絶万径人蹤滅 : 鳥や人の影の全く見えない、見渡す限りの雪景色
万径 ばんけい : 獣道などすべての道
人蹤 じんしょう : 足跡
蓑笠 さりゅう : みのかさ
翁 おう

The quiet calm of a snow-swept field untouched by man or beast, and the loneliness of a single man fishing, a black speck in a world of white. Indescribable feelings, summed up in twenty characters. Not bad, huh?

I did not explain the structure of 漢詩 poems last time, mainly due to length concerns, so I will do that here. There are two types of 漢詩, 古体詩 and 近体詩. Since this is a 近体詩, I will explain only that one here, and leave the 古体詩 for later.

There are six types of 近体詩, which sounds intimidating but this is really just a combination of two factors: the number of characters in each verse and the number of verses. In 近体詩, there are only two possibilities as to the number of characters, 五言(五言) and 七言(七言). As for verses, there are three possibilities, 絶句 (four), 律詩 (eight), and 排律 (ten plus). Furthermore, being that poems were originally meant to be sung, rhyming is usually found. As a general rule, the even-numbered verses end in rhyming characters (音読) for 五言 and the first verse + even-numbered verses for 七言. At risk of putting anyone to sleep, just one last thing: the composition of 漢詩 usually takes the 起承転結 form.


Applying the above, let’s take another look at 江雪. Firstly and most obviously, we can tell that this is a 五言絶句 because there are five characters per verse + four verses. As for the rhyme, it’s 五言, so we need only look at the second and fourth verses: 滅+雪, right? If we look closely, we see we get a freebie with 絶 at the beginning.

You may have also noticed the structural significance of the poem. For example, 滅絶 and 独孤 turned around are 絶滅 and 孤独. Adds a whole new dimension, huh?