Title: Song of Sunset on the River ▪ 暮江吟
Author: Bai JuYi

Poetic Form: júejù 绝句

Apologies, individual character links no longer available for this poem...

1. (一 + 道) + (残 + 阳) + 铺 + (水 + 中)
    (one + path) + (deficient + sunlight) + unfurl +
       (water + center)
    gloss: One strip of fading sunlight unfurls over
    the water

2. ((半 + 江) + (瑟 + 瑟) + ((半 + 江) + 红)
    ((half + river) + (jade + jade)) + ((half + river) +
    gloss: Half the river is the color of jade, half the
    river is red

3. (可 + 怜) + (九 + 月) + (初 + 三 + 夜)
    (can + to feel regard for) + (ninth + moon) + (first
        + third + night)
    gloss: How I love the third night of the ninth

4. (露 + 似 + (真 + 珠)) + (月 + 似 + 弓)
    (dew + to appear + (real + pearl)) + (moon + to
       appear + bow)
     gloss: The dew looks like real pearls; the moon
     looks like a bow.


Song of Sunset on the River
translation by Jessica Alexander ©

A stretch of fading sunlight unfurls across the water,
Half the river emerald blue, half the river red.
How charming the third night of the ninth moon:
The dewdrops are like pure pearls, the moon a bow.


With various political factions complicating politics in the capital, Bai JuYi sought assignment elsewhere around 822 CE, landing in HangZhou.  This poem was probably written while he was en route to his new post and reeling from relief at having escaped the political turmoil and exhilaration to be heading somewhere new and known for its natural beauty.
Here the poet demonstrates his love of nature by spending much of a single night – from dusk until the moon is up and the dew has arrived – sitting by a riverbank.  He uses this short span of time and the imagery of the river, its banks, and the sky above it, to describe his inner feelings.
In lines 1 and 2, he paints a picture of the setting sun.  It is already so near to the horizon that it no longer “shines” () but rather “unfurls” () like a carpet.  The sky is obviously clear and there is no wind, so the difference in colors where the sun reflects off the water and where it does not is stark: an evanescent sight that will disappear as the sun moves behind the horizon.
In lines 3 and 4, the poet moves on to describe the scenery of the new moon rising.  He looks down and sees the dew twinkling in the grasses beside the river like pearls.  He looks up to see the curve of the new moon suspended against the deep blue of the night sky.
Bai JuYi makes significant use of color in this poem.  In the light of the setting sun, the river is fiery red and deep emerald blue.  Once the sun is gone and only the night sky remains, white light shimmers in the dew on the ground and glows from the new moon hanging in the sky.  This focus on color and his descriptions of the various shapes (pearls of dew, arch of the moon) help express the tranquility of the scene he paints.
Oblique rhyme for lines 1, 2, and 4.


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