Parting on River Yi
- Poetry of Luo Binwang

《于易水送人》

- Last updated: 2024-03-29 20:50:21

Parting on River Yi by Luo Binwang
中文原文

此地别燕丹,壮士发冲冠。

昔时人已没,今日水犹寒。


English Translation

Here he parted with his friend,

The warrior whose hair stood up from anticipation.

The heroes of the past have already passed away,

But today the water is just as cold.

Concise yet powerful, Luo’s language reveals the power of legacies and the impact that bold decisions can have on generations to come. Based on a true story, the poem traces the last interaction between Crown Prince Dan of Yan state and Jing Ke, a friend whom the prince sent to assassinate another king. Fully knowing the deadly consequences that a failed mission could result in, Jing Ke decided nonetheless to carry out his friend’s desire and the two friends bid farewell at River Yi. Luo describes the tensions of the moment through the detailed description of 发冲冠 (hair standing on end). But, more importantly, the poet encapsulates the bravery of the moment — the courage of a man to take a heroic action that would most likely result in his own death — through the temperature of the river itself: even nature was affected by the two men to a point that it turned 寒 (cold). Written retrospectively, Luo looks at River Yi long after the deal was made between the two friends, and he is still able to feel the tension that came along with a decisive action that happened centuries ago.

Why Chinese poems is so special?
The most distinctive features of Chinese poetry are: concision- many poems are only four lines, and few are much longer than eight; ambiguity- number, tense and parts of speech are often undetermined, creating particularly rich interpretative possibilities; and structure- most poems follow quite strict formal patterns which have beauty in themselves as well as highlighting meaningful contrasts.
How to read a Chinese poem?
Like an English poem, but more so. Everything is there for a reason, so try to find that reason. Think about all the possible connotations, and be aware of the different possibilities of number and tense. Look for contrasts: within lines, between the lines of each couplet and between successive couplets. Above all, don't worry about what the poet meant- find your meaning.

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