Title: Relegated to Lan Pass, An Explanation to My
         Grandnephew Xiang
Author: Han Yu
Poetic Formlǜshī律诗

1. ( + ) + ( + ) + ( + + )
    (one + proposal) + (imperial court + submit) +
        (nine + -fold + heaven)
     gloss: At the imperial court, an opinion was 
     submitted to the son of the 9 Heavens (the

2. + + ( + ) + ( + ( + ))
    dusk + demote + (chao + zhou) + (road +
       (eight + thousand))
    gloss: By dusk, (I) had been demoted (and
    banished) to Chaozhou, 8000 li away

3. + ( + ( + )) + ( + ( + ))
    to wish + (for + (shengming [imperial court])) +           (to remove + (corruption + affair))
    gloss: I wished to undo the corruption present
    in the imperial court

4. + + ( + ) + + ( + ) !
    to agree + (future) + (to decline + old/useless)
      + to cherish + (deficient + years)
     gloss: Would I have still done so (allowing myself
      to become useless), wanting to treasure my
      few remaining years

5. ( + ( + ( + ))) + ( + ( + ))?
    (cloud + (move across + (Qin + mountain ridge)))
      + (home + (? + place))
    gloss: Clouds drift over the Qin mountains;
    where is my home?

6. ( + + ( + )) + ( + + )
    (snow + embrace + (blue + pass)) + (horse +
       not + advance)
     gloss: The Blue (Lan) Pass is shrouded in
     snow; my horse will not go forward

7. + + ( + ) + ( + + )
    know + you + (far + come) + (must + have +
     gloss: I know that you have come from afar
     and you must be right

8. ( + ) + ( + ) + ( + + )
    (well + to collect) + (my + bones) + (misty + river
       + side)
     gloss: Bury my bones beside a misty river


Relegated to Lan Pass, An Explanation to My Grandnephew Xiang
translation by Jessica Alexander ©

A memorial was presented to the Son of Nine Heavens.
By dusk, I was banished to ChaoZhou: a road of eight
                                                                                 thousand li.
I wished to unburden the imperial throne of its corruption,
Yet I would wane, treasuring the few years that remain!
Clouds drift across the Qin Ridge; where is my home?
Lan Pass is enfolded in snow; my horse will not advance.
I know you have traveled far, and you must be right.
Plant my old bones alongside misty waters.


Han Yu, whose work served as a harbinger of Neo-Confucianism, was a strong opponent of Buddhism.  In 819 CE, he presented a to the emperor XianZong.  A , often translated as “memorial” or “memorandum”, is an official statement to the emperor.  His “Memorial on the Buddha Bone” (translation 1, translation 2) was a vitriolic condemnation of events that took place in the capital when an alleged bone of the Buddha was brought into the royal court and honored by the emperor himself.  His memorial incensed the emperor, and Han Yu was banished to ChaoZhou, a city roughly 8000 li south of the capital, Chang’an.  Lan Pass (or Blue Pass), through the QinLing Mountains (modern day ZhongNanShan 终南山 in Shaanxi Province), is at the beginning of this journey.  Upon hearing the news of his granduncle’s banishment, Han Xiang rushes to the Pass to catch up with him, furious at how his granduncle has been treated.  Han Xiang will go on to become Philosopher Han Xiang, one of ancient China’s Eight Immortals.

The style of this poem is interesting in that it follows the poetic constraints of poetry, but reads more like an essay or a story.  Lines 1 and 2 directly state the reason for Han Yu’s banishment and the outcome of his actions.  With this direct admission, the poet shows that he recognizes that he provoked his own banishment.  He even exalts the emperor by calling him 九重天.  The emperor is traditionally called 天子, the Son of Heaven, but in Daoism there are nine heavens.  Han Yu shows that he does not contest the emperor’s right to rule: he is not only the Son of Heaven, but the son of all nine.  In Lines 3 and 4, Han Yu explains why he wrote the memorial (to free the court of corruption caused by Buddhism and its followers) and that he would do so again if given the chance.

Beginning in lines 5 and 6, the poet becomes more personal, using scenery to express his own emotions.  With the snow and the clouds, all around him is desolation.  He is so alone and so far from what he loves that, looking backward, he can no longer see his home in Chang’an.  Looking forward, both physically and metaphorically, he feels lost: 马不前 is a line from Confucius that deals with a hero losing his way (see Chapter XIII).

Finally, in lines 7 and 8, Han Yu directly addresses his grandnephew.  He notes that Han Xiang may be justified in his anger, but that, ultimately, it is no use.  All the grandnephew can truly do is take care of Han Yu’s own bones once he’s dead.

Lines 2, 4, 6, and 8 all rhyme obliquely.  Lines 1 and 2 are a perfect rhyme.


Other Translations

Unable to find any current translations.  Please contact me if you know of one!