top of page
  • Julia Min

江上看山 Looking at Mountains from the River Boat


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)

新版修改及赏析: 闵晓红(2023)





Looking at Mountains from the River Boat

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

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

Revision+ analysis by Julia Min (2023)

From our boat the mountains run like horses,

Galloping past, by hundreds, on both shores.

Ahead, they change forms in all directions;

Behind, they herd wildly towards heavens.

The paths and trails mark a maze of webbing,

Where the travellers in the mist are drifting.

I try to wave, to make myself understood,

But I’m off southward like a bird on high wind.


It was a time of success. It was a time of loss. In 1057, Su Shi actually came out first in the Imperial Examination at a young age of 21, an immediate success well-known throughout the country. His younger brother Su Zhe (aged 19) was on the top list as well. Emperor Renzong had an exceptional favour for the two brothers, ready to offer them good posts in the Royal Court. As if things went too well for them, they received the sad news of their mother’s death in April. The recognized morale etiquettes and rules since the Han Dynasty require every gentleman to stay close to the parent’s tomb, finishing a mourning period of 27 months, during which no wedding, no official commitment, and no entertainment allowed. This tradition was very strict in the Song, later fading away in the Ming and Qing. So we have very little record of the Su family for this period, at Meizhou in Sichuan mountains, till July 1059 when the two brothers all moved to the Capital with their father.

This poem was written on their boat down the Yangtse leaving their hometown, believed then, at the source of the river towards the capital Kaifeng in the northeast. The well-known scenery is in the rough, upper reaches along the Wu Mountain ranges where many poems had been written before him. There’s a famous one by Li Bai with verses: “The cries of the monkeys linger behind while the boat flies past a thousand mountains.”(两岸猿声啼不住,轻舟已过万重山). Su Shi’s lines borrow not only the sense of a flying boat passed thousands of mountains, he also has a remarkable touch in creating a misplaced illusion of mountains in fast motion and humans drifting when your very self is of a seemingly static position in the comfort of a boat on the river. Such perspective of a peculiar interchanging illusion of the dynamic and static, the evolving of ying and yang appear a few more times in his later works with deeper philosophical understanding -- Life could be just a dream but you don’t know cos your very self is in it. For example his poem “Inscribed on a wall of Xilin Temple” (《题西林壁》)concludes with a couplet that goes: “How can you hope to view Mt. Lu from every side/When your body is dwelling in her very eye?”.


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) (“Looking at the Mountains from the River” – “From my little boat the mountains run like horses, /Pass by hundreds of head at a time./Ahead they change in all aspects continuously;/ Behind they herd wildly against the heavens./Suddenly on the path turning and slanting on the mountain,/I see travellers floating in high mists;/I try to wave, to make myself understood, saying good-bye,/But I’m off helplessly southward, myself a wild wing. ”)

3. picture from Google

bottom of page