Li Bai to Liu Zongyan: “Snow” in Chinese poetry of the 8th and 9th centuries

ZP_Snow scene_a fan-painting by Yang Ming-Yi

ZP_Snow scene_a fan-painting by Yang Ming-Yi

A selection of Tang-Dynasty poetry – chosen here for references to winter and snow – as translated from the Chinese by scholar, poet and University of Texas professor Frederick Turner with his collaborator “Y. D.”:


Li Bai (701-762)

“Thoughts in a Silent Night”


The moonlight falling by my bed tonight

I took for early frost upon the ground.

I lift my head, gaze at the moon, so bright,

I lower my head, think of my native land.


Cui Hao (704?-754)

(First of Two Songs of Chang Gan)

“Staying on a Night of Wind and Snow with the Host of Hibiscus Mountain, Liu Changqing”


Far teal-blue mountains and the sun’s last glow;

In this chill heaven, a poor white-wood hut;

You hear a dog bark at the wicker gate–

At night a man comes home in wind and snow.


Du Fu (712-770)

“Facing the Snow”


Many new ghosts cry out, in battle slain;

An old man’s chanting, anxious and alone.

Chaotic clouds oppress the setting sun,

Windblown, a rush of dancing snow spins down.

The gourd’s abandoned by the dry wine-jar,

The stove is real, flames seem to burn again.

The mails are cut, through several prefectures;

I sit here, anxious, write on the air in vain.


Lu Lun (748-800)

“Songs of the Frontier”

(Number 2 of 6)


The forest’s dark, grass frightened by the wind;

At night the general draws his bow of horn;

They seek the arrow, find it in the dawn

Buried up to the white fletch in the stone.

The wild geese fly above a moonless sky;

At night the Hun chief’s army slips away.

No sooner had our horse gone in pursuit

Than bow and sword with snow were covered high.


Meng Jiao (751-814)

“Distant View of the Luo Bridge”


Beneath the Tian Jin Bridge the ice

has just begun to show;

In Luo Yang City’s empty streets

no traveler will go;

Willows and elms are bare of leaves,

pavilions lie unused;

But in the bright moon brilliantly

I see Mount Song’s far snow.


Bai Juyi (772-846)

“The Old Charcoal-Seller”


There is an ancient charcoal-selling man;

He cuts down timber, burns it slow,

High on Mount Zhongnan Shan.


His face ingrained with dust and ash

Is browned with charcoal smoke,

His temples grey with age and toil,

His fingers black as coke.


You sell the charcoal, you get paid,

How do you spend the gains?

To clothe the body’s nakedness,

And feed the hunger pains.


Though only thin rags hang upon

His wretched arms and thighs,

He hopes the winter will be cold

So charcoal’s price will rise.


An inch of snow fell overnight,

He makes an early start;

Down from the hills through rutted ice

He drives the charcoal-cart.


The ox gets tired, the man is starved,

The sun has risen higher,

He rests outside the Southern Gate

Upon the market mire.


Two horsemen lightly canter up;

Who are they? By their dress,

One in yellow, one in plain white,

They’re couriers, more or less.


With dispatches in hand, they shout

“Imperial command!”

The old man turns his cart, the ox

Drags the whole burden round.


One cart of charcoal’s half a ton;

North to the palace gate

The envoys chivvy him, and now

He must unload the weight.


In grief he’s paid but half a bolt

Of muslin, dyed cheap red,

And but nine feet of low-grade silk

Flung round the ox’s head.


Bai Juyi (772-846)

“Night Snow”


The quilt and pillow have got strangely cold;

The window’s paper panes begin to glow.

At night I heard how heavy was the snow–

The bamboos, snapped by more than they could hold.


Liu Zongyuan (773-819)

“Snow River”


Birds fly no more among these thousand hills,

Men’s footprints blank along ten thousand ways:

With boat, straw hat and cape one old man stays

Fishing alone in the snow-river’s chills.



All translations © Frederick Turner, University of Texas

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