Archive for 漢詩


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?



I thought, in a change of pace, I would do my first poem today. In contrast to 漢文, they are called 漢詩, and since it’s my first, I might as well do one of the most famous poems by one of the most famous poets.

香炉峰下、新卜山居、草堂初成、偶題東壁 by 白居易 (Note it is read vertically)

故 心 司 匡 香 遺 小 日
郷 泰 馬 廬 炉 愛 閣 高
何 身 仍 便 峰 寺 重 睡
独 寧 為 是 雪 鐘 衾 足
在 是 送 逃 撥 欹 不 猶
長 帰 老 名 簾 枕 怕 慵
安 処 官 地 看 聴 寒 起


香炉峰: The northern peak of Mount Lushan (廬山), which appears often in 漢詩. By the way, a 香炉 is an incense burner.
卜 ぼくシ: Here, to find land suitable to live on.
草堂: A grass-thatch home. 庵(いおり)
偶 たまたま: Sometimes written 隅々
題東壁: It was common practice for poets to write poems on the walls of their homes (or their friends’ homes).
慵 ものうシ: 気だるい
小閣: A small two-story home. A 閣 is a building of two or more stories.
衾 ふすま: 掛け布団
不怕寒 かんヲおそレず
遺愛寺: A temple to the north of 香炉峰.
欹枕 まくらヲそばだテテ: Prop up the pillow.
香炉峰雪撥簾看 こうろほうノゆきハすだれヲかかゲテみル: This is a famous line, made so by its appearance in 枕草子. (雪のいと高う降りたるを、例ならず御格子まゐりて、炭櫃に火おこして、物語などして集まり侍ふに、「少納言よ、香炉峰の雪いかならむ。」と仰せらるれば、御格子上げさせて、御簾を高く上げたれば、笑はせ給ふ。) It shows us how big 漢詩 and 漢文 were in Heian Japan.
匡廬 きょうろ: A different name for 廬山.
便是 すなわチこレ: すなわち~である. 是れ means である here.
逃名地 なヲのがルルノち: A place fit for escaping secular pursuits of fame and fortune.
司馬 しば:When 白居易 wrote this poem, he had just been demoted to a 司馬, a sinecure position, in 815.
仍為 なホ たリ(二~一): つまり~である
心泰身寧 こころやすクみやすキハ: Why are these read やすし? Don’t forget about 安泰 and 安寧.
故郷何独在長安 こきょうなんゾひとリちょうあんニあルノミナランヤ: This is known as 累加形. 反語形の「何ぞ~んや」 and 限定形の「独り~のみ」 combine to mean どうしてただ~だけであろうか (いや、それだけではない). “Why should 長安 be my only hometown?”

It’s a nice poem, huh? We’ve all had these moments, where we wake up and are perfectly content with life, not worrying about the day ahead of us. Funny, these days usually seem to be in the winter when we are bundled up in our covers.

白居易 (はくきょい), 字:楽天, is perhaps the most famous of the 漢詩 poets. He started writing poems around five or six years old and began to serve the court when he was 29. At 44, he exceeded his power and made a direct appeal to the emperor and, as a result, was demoted to 司馬 (which is what this poem is about). In this poem, particularly in the verse, 匡廬便是逃名地, we can clearly see 白居易’s life view. He also wrote many poems criticizing the government satirically.