Emergence Magazine

Artwork by Albarrán Cabrera

Poems from the Song Dynasty

translated by Shangyang Fang


Shangyang Fang grew up in Chengdu, China. A Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, his works have appeared in The Nation, Ploughshares, The Yale Review, The Best American Poetry, The Best of Net, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and The Forward Book of Poetry Anthology. The author of the poetry collection Burying the Mountain, he is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.


姜夔 Jiang Kui (1155–1221) was a Chinese poet, composer, musicologist, and calligrapher of the Southern Song Dynasty. Regarded as one of the most influential poets on the form of Ci (lyrics), Jiang Kui distinguished himself by not pursuing a government career, a path chosen by many of his contemporaries. He lived an impoverished life, sustaining himself by selling his calligraphic works.


张镃 Zhang Zi (1153–1221) was a literatus and government official born into a distinguished family of military officials. While serving in the agricultural sector of the nation, he became entangled in a political coup. His life came to an end following the failure of the plot and his subsequent removal from the court.


李清照 Li Qingzhao (1084–c.1155) was a Chinese poet and essayist of the Song Dynasty. Born to a family of prestigious scholar-officials, her life unfolded amidst the tumultuous Jin-Song wars, marked by imprisonment, exile, and poverty. She continued to write poetry till the end of her life. She is regarded as one of the greatest poets in Chinese history.


张孝祥 Zhang Xiaoxiang (1132–1170) was a Chinese poet and politician of the Southern Song Dynasty. In an era marked by conflict, he exhibited a strong sense of patriotism, reflected in his Ci (lyrics), which are celebrated for their audacious and unrestrained artistic expression. Dissatisfied with the political climate of the Southern Song court, he chose to resign from his position and passed away at the age of thirty-eight.


Albarrán Cabrera are the photographers Anna Cabrera and Angel Albarrán who work together as a collaborative duo based in Barcelona. Their work has been featured internationally in solo and group exhibitions and in publications, including On Listening to Trees, Photographic Syntax, Land: Photographs That Make You Think, and Remembering the Future.

Through these new translations of poems from the Song Dynasty, poet Shangyang Fang delivers us into the primordial entwinement of the human and the living world.

姜夔 〔宋代〕



Dim Scent

Jiang Kui, 1155–1221, Southern Song Dynasty

Aged moonlight, how many times

have you shone on me, beside the plum blossoms?
Listening to the sound of flute.

Wake up, love—despite the air being cold
like washed jade, we climbed

to pluck the newest buds. Now,
as I’ve aged, my oblivious brushstrokes too weak

to recite the Spring wind, the sparse,
rose-colored dapples beyond the bamboo forest

sending a sharp fragrance.


The water provinces, desolate.

I want to send you this sprig of plum blossoms
tonight. Tonight, snow piles

for ten thousand miles. The emerald wine glass
weeps against the damp petals.

Remember where we held hands, the moment
when a thousand trees suddenly

bent crimson beside a lake.

Then piece by piece, taken by the wind.

These assembled past … when, again, will I see?







To the Tune of Man Ting Fang

Zhang Zi, 1153–1221, Southern Song Dynasty

Outside the Attic of Golden Hairpin—tall sycamore trees,
moon-washed, grasses ignited in silver, rounded
with dew—autumn deepens. Where the lichen slouches,
glowworms plunge to the corner of a stone wall.
The coarse screech of crickets, night’s maudlin tautology,
has the glissando of my mother’s sewing machine,
which once urged her repeating hands to keep
repeating—my childhood—I remember—with lantern
in my hands and a jug of clear water—I remember—following
the cricket’s song, tiptoeing through the dankest mud—
I remember—despite the dense shadows of flowers
weighing down my slim shoulders, all night I kept chasing
their voices till morning—morning I brought their thin,
trembling bodies for fights at the marketplace,
where the cricket boxes, so delicate, gilded like little pavilions
strapped around the boys’ waists. Now that I am sick
and dying, alone in this dilapidated cottage,
the crickets come to sing under my bed frame—
frigid hours, sustained by the cricket’s song—I start singing.




Artwork by Albarrán Cabrera







Willow in Snow
To the Tune of Yong Yu Le

Li Qingzhao 1084–ca.1155, Song Dynasty

The sunset, an incinerated scrap of gold,
the clouds darken as iron gates shut the moon behind.

You, who survived the war and disasters,
where are you? The fog rises, smudging the deep green

of willows, and the plum petals drop
like touchable notes flying off a flute. Do you still remember

how to be happy in springtime?
It’s the Lantern Festival, the weather falsely pleasant—

perhaps we need a storm to snatch
us back into reality. Friends came with wine and poetry

in their splendid carriages, inviting me
to a banquet. I thanked them and chose to stay home.

I think of the time in Zhong Zhou,
during the Lantern Festival, girls wearing emerald circlets,

or the sumptuous headdresses braided with gold threads
called Willow in Snow. Now that I’ve aged

with face ravaged like this languished nation,
battered by the wind. My hair a strand of autumn frost.

I’m afraid to go to the night markets,
where the lanterns invent a dawn. It’s better to hide

behind those heavy curtains, and listen
intently to strangers laughing, talking away the night.







Dong Ting Lake
To the Tune of Nian Nü Jiao

Zhang Xiaoxiang 1132–1170, Southern Song Dynasty

At Dong Ting, the glasslike grasses
seem an extension of the lake. There isn’t a trace of wind
on the Moon Festival, everything keeps
to itself. The lake water burnished
like a giant mirror and the boundless rice fields ripening
into maroon gemstones, and among them I ride on a wood raft,
like a leaf crossing the quiet color of the moon,
and beside which, the bright galaxy that pours
a torrent from the sky, irrigates the lake stars. My heart
seems to be made of that lucid water,
a clarity inside me which words cannot display.
Thinking about my youthful years working in the remote
areas of Ling Nan, alone with the same moonlight
that had filled my lungs and liver with frosted ice.
Now that I’m old with shaved hair and thin clothing, I feel
a vastness inside of me. Let me pour empty
the River West as wine, use the Big Dipper as ladle
and invite all worldly things as my guests.
The world is but a passing guest of my mind. Alone I strum
my zither and sing, forgetting what year it is,
while time keeps passing through my body, so time lives.

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