浣溪沙. 游蕲水清泉寺 A visit to the Clear Stream Temple
A visit to the Clear Stream Temple
- to the tune “The Washing Stream“
( I visit the Clear Stream Temple today at Qishui County. It’s a catching view from the temple on the slope, and the Orchard Stream at the foot of the hill actually flows west, hence the poem.)
Written by: Su Shi ( 1082)
English trans. by: Julia Min (2022)
Down the hill, all along the white sandy beach,
sweet orchids are budding again in the stream.
A sand path winds into the pine trees, mud free.
The dusk, drizzling, hears the cuckoos’ melodies.
Who said our time can’t fly back to youth, to teens?
Look here, back to west flowing the Orchid Stream!
You may stop sighing over your hair turning grey,
It’s just your swelling fear by cockcrow or the day.
1. cuckoos’ melodies: implying a traveller’s homesickness in Chinese culture;
2. back to west: all rivers in China flow from the west to the east, with Yangtse and the Yellow River both sourced from Himalaya region;
3. the Orchid Stream: named in the Tang dynasty for the wild orchids growing like endless clouds along the river’s wet sandy belt. It’s changed to Xishui River later; Interestingly, the name of Orchid is still used today for the lower part of the river till joining the Yangtse River;
The year 1082 could be the most productive year in Su Shi’s life and the second stanza, where the theme is concluded, is one of the most recited by Chinese for over a thousand years. Whenever someone sigh over the passing of spring days, the three lines are often quoted to encourage for a different perspective about aging, as what westerners would say: “you are just as old as you feel. ”
So, Su Shi felt immensely chirpy and cheerful at this mesmerising view in front of the temple – a river that flows from the east sunrise to the west sunset! His inward eye, exhilarated, discovered a new understanding about life that gives him blissful joy and transcendence.
It just happened this beautiful riverside town is my birthplace where I spent childhood and teenage years. The landscape might have changed a lot since Dongpo’s days but the river, the orchids, the wide sand beaches mottled by the rocks during the dry seasons, the misty distant hills on the east where the sun popped out on my morning walk to school, and the many murmuring streams flowing down from the hilly river banks. The sandy river was so clean we collected in buckets for drinking and cooking. There were only some orchids, not many as in this poem, but many wild flowers growing on riverside shallow waters and exposed sandy islands. Cuckoos were not many either. The thousand-year temple is still standing today overlooking the flowing water, but no clean water, no orchids, no pines, and no cuckoo melodies. The river is drying up, unfortunately, as in many places around the globe. Sometimes I wonder what Dongpo would say if he could visit the temple today. … …
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)（"At the foot of the hill, sweet shoots of thoroughwort root in the stream;/Off into the pines goes the sand road that never is mud./Dusk and the rains are incessant; the cuckoo gives forth./Who says, when all's said, you can never again be young?/Back to the west flows the River, past this temple's porch,/So White Hair, why hasten the morning with old rooster's song."）
2. Picture by An Tian