On the Love of the Lotus
- Poetry of Zhou Dunyi

《爱莲说》

- Last updated: 2024-06-22 16:05:07

On the Love of the Lotus by Zhou Dunyi
中文原文

水陆草木之花,可爱者甚蕃。

晋陶渊明独爱菊。

自李唐来,世人甚爱牡丹。

予独爱莲之出淤泥而不染,濯清涟而不妖,中通外直,不蔓不枝,香远益清,亭亭净植,可远观而不可亵玩焉。


予谓菊,花之隐逸者也;牡丹,花之富贵者也;莲,花之君子者也。

噫!菊之爱,陶后鲜有闻。

莲之爱,同予者何人?牡丹之爱,宜乎众矣!


English Translation

Many flowers of grasses and trees in the water and on the land

Are worthy of admiration.

Tao Yuan Ming of Jin dynasty only loved the chrysanthemum;

Since Tang Dynasty, all people have deeply loved the peonies.

But I only love the lotus, which came out of mud yet is not contaminated,

Washed by ripples yet is not voluptuous,

Its straight stem is hollow inside,

It does not grow into branches or vines,

Its clean fragrance diffuses a far distance,

It stands there perfectly upright and clean,

It shall only be admired from afar instead of being played in people’s hands.

I think the chrysanthemum is the recluse of the flowers;

Peony is the nobility of great wealth;

Lotus is the gentleman of the flowers.

Alas!

The love of chrysanthemum is seldom seen after Tao Yuan Ming,

Who else share the same love of Lotus that I have?

The love of peonies is of course widespread everywhere.

Peony is often considered as the flower of China, symbolizing nobility, wealth and status. Peony is often associated with the empress.

Lotus flowers are regarded as noble and clean in traditional Chinese culture. Zhou Dun Yi personified lotus into a gentleman, expressing his belief of being righteous in the dark bureaucracy and the society. This essay is also well known today, being taught in almost all schools. People still use “washed by ripples yet not voluptuous, came out of mud yet not contaminated” to praise individuals with admirable characters.

Thanks to the great influence of the Mary Sue genre, young people’s impression of White Lotus Flowers is totally different from the traditional view of lotus. When you hear the younger generation talking about White Lotus, they are definitely referring to a certain pretending-to-be-innocent girl. Most of the time, White Lotus girls are the female leads in the Mary Sue genre. To get a general idea, imagine the cliché female leads from Korean dramas, who are extremely poor yet attract countless rich guys because of their “kind hearts”. They always get bullied from others yet forgive them every single time, trust even their love-enemies, and believe the world is all kind. They are so unrealistically innocent and stupid to the point that they seem fake.

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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