Water Song by Su Shi (translation)水調歌頭。 蘇軾

Water Song is a poetic form that accompanies a set musical structure:  95 characters of two sections, nine and ten lines respectively, each with 4 end rhymes.  The characters are arranged in a set tonal sequence.

Many Chinese poets have used this structure as the basis of their work: think sonnets.  My English translation does not conform to the Chinese rules due to my lack of scholarship.  I am but a bilingual poet who wishes to share her love of poetry in her native tongue.  I enjoy translating but I loath writing notes so this long-winded one is an exception.  I apologise for imposing it on readers who just want to read a poem.

This poem was written in 1076: Su Shi (Su Dong Po 蘇東坡) had prefaced it with a date and remarked that it was mid autumn (when families gather) and he was missing his brother (whom he hadn’t seen for more than six years) so he drank to the moon and became quite drunk before he wrote this poem.

水調歌頭。 蘇軾










Water Song by Su Shi (1037 – 1101)

How often do we have a bright moon

I raised my wine and asked the sky

Who knows if the castle in heaven is

Enduring other times in another year?

I would let the wind carry me there

But for fear of living in a place of jade

So high and too cold to bear

Dancing with my own shadow

Unlike being amongst mortals!


The moon rounds the pavilion and

Lowers to shine through the screen

Giving me no sleep

I should have no regrets

Why look back to better times?

We are happy or sad, we meet or part as

The moon waxes or wanes, hides or shines

This cadence is decreed through time

I only wish that we all live long and

Gaze at the moon across the miles

(c) Mary Tang  鄧許文蘭 2017


About Mary Tang

An urban orchardist everyday, a volunteer regularly, a poet sometimes and a blogger since March 2015. I travel when I can. Food is a constant.
This entry was posted in Poetry, Poetry Translation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Water Song by Su Shi (translation)水調歌頭。 蘇軾

  1. Harry Miller says:

    Wow! The 詞 form is especially hard to translate. You really did it well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. arlingwoman says:

    I too like your notes. There is so much about poetic form that I do not know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mary Tang says:

      Thanks, Lisa. I know that it would be difficult for English readers to appreciate Chinese poetry by means of translations such as mine. Hence the notes and declaration. :}


  3. zdunno03 says:

    Reblogged this on Leonard Durso and commented:
    a lovely translation of a Su Shi poem by Mary Tang on her blog Life is But This

    Liked by 1 person

  4. oglach says:

    I agree with Derrick. I enjoy the translations immensely, but as my knowledge of the history and structure of the poems is extremely limited, I found your note illuminating.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoyed your preamble, Mary

    Liked by 2 people

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