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  • Julia Min

六月二十日夜渡海 Crossing the Strait in June on the 20th Day


原作: 苏轼(字子瞻, 号东坡居士; 11世纪北宋)

英译: 闵晓红(2024.01)






Crossing the Strait in June on the 20th Day

Chinese original: Su Shi (11th AC, social name 'Dongpo')

English translation: Julia Min (Jan. 2024)

The dark night is fading for the break of dawn,

The stars, Hunter and Dipper, dimming away.   

At last the endless wind and rain come to an end,

Giving way to a bright moon and beaming waves; -

Free of murky haze, free of extras as contrast,

Just a pure world by nature, a serene seascape.

No regret for the deadly journey at world’s edge,

I’ve lived it to the fullest, to the most exotic quest;-

A real taste of Confucius floating life on the sea,

A rough touch of Xuanyuan’s music and philosophy.


1.     June: all the dates in Ancient Chinese literature refer to the Lunar Calendar which is usually one month behind the Solar Calendar. So, 20 June is about the end of July on the Solar Calendar.

2.     Hunter and Dipper: two most recognizable star constellations often mentioned in literature.

3.     world’s edge: Hainan Island was regarded as the furthest continent to the sea, hence often called in history as ‘the end of the world’.

4.     Confucius ‘floating life on the sea’: originated from Confucius words: should my theory not accepted by the Rulers of the states, I would have a floating life on the sea (据《论语·公冶长》载,孔子曾说:“道(王道)不行,乘桴浮于海。”)

5.     Xuanyuan: the legendary Yellow Emperor (some simply call him ‘Huangdi’黄帝), reign dates said to be 2697–2597 BC. One day, the Emperor played music by Dongting Lake (洞庭湖) and talked about his understanding of universal rules, offering a profound insight into the mystic ways of changes and transformation.


It was the year 1100 when Dongpo was finally pardoned by the Emperor and granted a return to the north. The New Law and the New Party had met their limits. Su Shi and his followers were on the Court’s agenda again. He was 60 years old, wishing to settle at his favorite place Changzhou (常州) , away from the chaos of the political platform. Unfortunately, the 7-year hardship in the desolate south borders took its toll, leaving him only a year in this world. So this is one of the last poems he composed.


We could clearly feel his excitements that he could go back home now, as a banishment to Hainan was then taken as a death sentence. The first part on the seascape is just a reflection of his mind, the joy of becoming a free man again. The last few lines express his broadminded attitude towards the three-year experience in the island. Life’s pressure had only made him stronger in spirit, and more modest and mature in expressing his philosophy about the world.


  1. 百度百科

  2. picture from 每日头条--梧桐树边羽


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