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  • Julia Min

李思训画《长江绝岛图》Islands in the Heart of Yangtse River


原作: 苏轼(字子瞻, 号东坡居士; 11世纪北宋)

旧版英译:戈登.奥赛茵, 闵晓红, 黄海鹏(1990)

新版及赏析: 闵晓红(2023)




唯有乔木搀天长。(chān tiān zháng)


棹歌中流声抑扬。(zhào gē)







Islands in the Heart of Yangtse River

-An ekphrasis on Li Sixun’s painting

written by Su Shi (11th AC, social name 'Dongpo')

old En. trans. by G. Osing, J. Min & H. Huang (1990)

Revision+ annot. by Julia Min (2023)

Along the rolling hills, the lushy green,

A river winds beyond in glow and gleam.

At the heart, standing proud, are two islands,

Little Orphan and Big Orphan, in the stream.

Since when the cliff road collapsed to waves.

The monkeys left, only birds’ nests are seen.

The trees hold fast, growing free without fear

The limbs seeking the sky, the Starry River.

There, a boat, fully loaded with men, appeared,

Rowing out and singing loud to Little Orphan.

They keep rolling up and down the dancing waves

that fend the clean sandy beach off intruders.

She tried a new hair bun in the morning mirror.

The boat, rowing and rolling, gets no nearer.

Hold your mind from running wild, sly tradesmen.

She’s married to Peng Rock, there in the river.


1. Little Orphan and Big Orphan: Little Orphan Island is located at the feeding point before Boyang Lake water flows into Yangtse River. Whereas the Big Orphan Island is many miles away. They are so named based on legendary stories. Both appeared in the painting, so I figure it could be a horizontal roll that show a broad landscape of the river, the islands, the boat, the rock and surrounding hills, remarkably touched with green and blue colors favored by the famous painter.

2. tradesmen: tradesmen had always been lowly regarded for their sly morality as profit seekers, hence the name is often used to refer to men of a sly nature. ‘sly’ is deliberately added for a better understanding of a concept unique to China.

3. Peng rock: a Chinese homonym for the rock named Peng Lang (meaning Wave Rock) . The syllables sound the same in Chinese as 彭郎, meaning Mr Peng, the young Lad. The pun is lost in the translation but the symbolic meaning is well kept. Our poet used the popular folklore where the young lad named Peng Lang married his aunt, a young girl he was famously in love. Today, the Little Orphan Island, together with the Peng Lang Rock, is on the top list of scenic spots on the Yangtse River.


What strikes me here is the extra values the poet added to the painting. I figure Su Shi was probably approached by the owner of the painting for the honour of an ekphrasis. The painter and the painting were already very famous. With Su Shi's poem, you could imagine the value of this art piece could rise like a rocket in the market. And indeed Su Shi met the expectation there in 1078 and has been cherished since then as one of the best among other ekphrasis. Unfortunately, the painting is no longer found today, only Su Shi's poem and many other writings about the artistic piece are sourced for its existence.

It could be a panoramic view with lush green mountains on one side and a vast river dotted with two islands, a couple of boats, and a big blueish rock nestled on the other bank. Familiar with the local sites and the folklore behind them, Su Shi, however, had many vivid stories playing in his romantic heart -- the love story, a beauty dressing up in the river mirror, the monkeys and birds of the past, and the passengers' admiration for the beauty, and even the gently dancing waves had an intention of fending off the boat from her presence.

Everything in the painting has come to life streaming before our eyes thanks to the rich message between the lines, and many more... hence why the Chinese say the poet can 'paint' the painting with words while the painter can 'write' the poetic painting with ink. You can’t find a better example than this -- Li Sixun created a painting with a poetic mind, while Su Shi composed the poem with the painting and the stories in his imagination.


1. Blooming Alone in Winter by Gordon Osing, Julia Min and Huang Haipeng,published by the People's Publication House Henan Province in 1990 (《寒心未肯随春态》戈登.奥赛茵,闵晓红,黄海鹏) (On Li Sixun’s Painting 'Beautiful islands in the Changjiang'”--They’re the darkest of greens, where the river sails from sight;/Dagu and Xiaogu, they divide the river between/Where the cliff-road’s collapse scared the monkeys and birds away/And only wild groves raise their limbs now to the sky./ Little launch on the river, do you sail out of nowhere?/Listen, your crew are singing deeply as they row./I see smooth sands, hear breezes, but can’t say where you go./I see you see the mountains grandly rise and fall beyond the waves./What phantom lady’s crowning glory dances in the smoke and haze?/But see, she dresses in her silver morning mirror – I’ll/Ask you tradesmen, keep your thoughts from running wild./The girl’s already married, to Peng Rock, there in the river. ”)

2. picture from the magazine Painting and Calligraphy Art 《书画艺术》via;


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