乌江绝句（又题：夏日绝句）By the River of Wujiang
By the River of Wujiang
Translated by Julia Min
Alive I’d be a hero for the people;
dead, a paragon of ghosts in Hell.
Beyond time still shines Xiangyu the General,
who’d die to live than homeland to the foe.
It was during the early years of Southern Song dynasty when the Royal Court and high officials were fleeing for life to the south, a hot period in history of “To Be or Not to Be”. The style of this poem manifests such heroic momentum, so powerful that you might doubt if it were the creation of a lady’s hand. Yes it is, and she wrote some more which were so popular that some lines were frequently quoted by other writers of her time. Every word sounds like the swing of a sword, that could only be compared by lyrics like “By the River of Babylon”. It reminds me of the inspirational proverb: “Throw me to the wolves, I’ll return leading the pack.”
The world image of a sentimental lady from crafted boudoir is now blended with new significance, --- a heroic writer whose sense and sensibility not only rhymed the pretty and witty, subtle and graceful qualities of a gentle class, but also witnessed courage and sharp criticism against the weakness of the Song Court, or perhaps also referring to her husband’s midnight escape for his own life leaving the city to the mercy of the Jin when he was the mayor. Irony is strongly felt with the reference to General Xiangyu, a loud call for heroic devotion to the homeland north of the River. I’d say, the bold language fleshes out a relentless warrior image that could match Joan of Arc, so impressive and influential that the gentlemen’s society must have felt even more shameful for their escape.
1. This poem has a different title in some publications --- “A Summer Day in the South”.
2. “xia ri”: summer season; Chinese culture sees the Five Elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water ) associated with different aspect of nature, such as direction, season, color, shape, etc. These are the fundamentals of universal rules governing all changes. The four seasons resonate the four directions. Here, summer is associated with south and fire, an ironic reference to Song’s flee to the south when the country is in war with invaders from the North.
3. “WuJiang”: a branch of the Yangtze River；
4. “Xiangyu”: (232 – 202 BC) a military general, a politician from a noble family of the Chu State（703-223BC）. He was granted “ Duke of Lu” in 208 BC . The peak of his life saw a 25 year-old leader of 50 thousand warriors perform a miraculous win over Qin State of 400 thousand soldiers. Next, he crowned himself the “Hegemon-King of Western Chu” in his capital Pengcheng，governing vast land from central to the east. Today he is regarded as “the Bravest of the Bravest” by Chinese historians, like the Braveheart of Scotland. It was recorded that he never lost a single battle except the last one by the River of Wujiang where Xiangyu chose death than stepping on the boat for River East. Yet he lives in people’s mind as one of the most referred figure in literature throughout history.