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  • Julia Min

水龙吟. 似花还似飞花 Like and yet Unlike Flowers

水龙吟. 似花还似飞花


原作: 苏轼(11世纪北宋)

英译旧版: 戈登.奥赛茵, 闵晓红, 黄海鹏(1990)

英版修改: 闵晓红(2023)

















Like and yet Unlike Flowers

- to the tune of Shuilongyin in the same rhyming scheme as “An Ode to Catkin” by Zhang Zhifu

written by: Su Shi (1084)

1st En. trans. by: G. Osing, J. Min & H. Huang (1990)

En. revision by: Julia Min (2023)

Like and yet unlike flowers,

No one honours their obedience to a fate of falling.

They’re called ungrateful on roadside. But I think

It’s not heartless, the homeless drifting of flying.

The leaf budding wound a heart with eyes tender,

Trying to open, yet linger over a dream on wind,

Seeking her mate far away. Then an oriole sings!

For catkins leaving their parent willows, I don’t fear.

What I regret are the followers from West Garden.

After a good morning rain, the remnants, where?

Into a pool of duckweed, driven here and there.

Spring has three fates -- two in dust, one in water.

Look closer: they’re not flowers but desolate tears!


1. Zhang, Zhifu: an official in Hubei who enjoyed writing poems with the same rhyming scheme of Su Shi’s ci poem. Su Shi did just the same echoing Zhifu’s ci poems.


Although Dongpo is better known for his heroic poetry, his sentimental ci poems are well received as well, and this is a fairly good example. This ci dates back to 1087 when the poet and politician had already had an intention of resigning from the Royal Court after seeing the fierce struggle between the old and the new parties over the New Laws.

Catkins from weeping willows are often used as a subject in literature alluding to the helpless fate of drifting on flowing water, hinting a fate beyond one’s control, while here it associates with his official career and ambitions driven by the big social machine or program. The tender eyes of the budding leaves clearly suggest the poem by Jiu Changxu ( Tang Dynasty)” Spring Grief”, where a lovesick lady dreamed a reunion with her husband

But disrupted by the oriole singing at her window. She cried out: “ Drive the birds away. She breaks my dream of my love far away in West Liao. ” The insinuation here is an interrupted, distracted moment of beauty, as in the chaos of social activities intruding into the poet’s pursuit to live true to his own desires.

West Garden here could refer to his followers in the Old Party. Su Shi was then a leading figure in the party, as it was sometimes called “The West Shu Party” (West Shu refers to his native place in Sichuan Province in the west of China). Soon after he was sentenced to prison, his followers were ticked off the political centre roles one by one. Thus he sighed his spring days are over, yet most regretfully, his downfall affected the fate of all his followers.

It's also worthwhile to appreciate the format of this ci where Su Shi wrote with the same rhyming scheme and sequence, even using the same rhyming words as in Zhifu’s ci poem. Very strict with himself indeed! Being recognized as one of the great poets in the gentry class, Su Shi was often challenged for such an intellectual entertainment which was quite popular at his time. Su’s poem wins over Zhang’s in many ways. I’m attaching a copy of Zhang’s poem for your entertainment if you could read Chinese.

The implied meaning of flying catkin in Chinese today is often associated with disloyal wives who go with the flow of their sexual chemistry, leaving their husbands and families.


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) ("Like and yet unlike flowers, /No one honours their obedience to a fate of falling./They’re called ungrateful there at the roadside, but I see/It’s not heartless, the sorrow and drift of their flying./Their twining flowers wound a heart whose tender eyes /Are trying to open, but close upon a dream ten-thousand miles /Away, seeking her husband where he’s gone. Then oriole wakens! //No, I don’t hate the catkin willows, completely barren. /I do fear I can’t put back the flowers, in the West Garden. /The morning after a good rain, though. Their remnants, where’d they go? /Into the pool of duckweed, driven one way then another./There are three Springs, two dust, one water, flowing away./Look closer: they’re not catkins; each fallen one’s a lady’s desolate tear.")

2. 章质夫杨花词《水龙吟》:燕忙莺懒芳残, 正堤上、柳花飘坠。轻飞乱舞,点画青林,全无才思。闲趁游丝,静临深院,日长门闭。傍珠帘散漫,垂垂欲下,依前被、风扶起。//兰帐玉人睡觉,怪春衣、雪沾琼缀。绣床旋满,香球无数,才圆却碎。时见蜂儿,仰粘轻粉,鱼吞池水。望章台路杳,金鞍游荡,有盈盈泪。

3. painting from Google;



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