秋浦歌 (李白)

Title: The Song of Autumn Shores
Author: Li Bai
Poetic Form:
júejù 绝句

1. ( + ) + ( + + )
    (white + hair) + (3 x 1000 x 10 feet)
    gloss: My white hair is 30,000 feet long

2. + + + + (?)
    reason + worry + seem + one + long
    gloss: Did my worry cause it to grow so long?

3. ( + ) + ( + + )
    (not + know) + (bright + mirror + inside)
    gloss: I do not know why the bright mirror     

4. (+ ) + + ( + ) (!)
    (from where) + obtain + (autumn + frost)
    gloss: Where did this autumn frost come from?


The Song of Autumn Shores
translation by Jessica Alexander

My white hair unfurls:
Fifty thousand fathoms --
Fretted long?
Whence this lambent mirror's
September hoarfrost!


Many critics read this poem, written during the Tang Dynasty, as having a question mark at the end of the second line and an exclamation mark at the end.  Li Bai makes use of exaggeration (whose hair is really 30,000 feet long?) to accentuate his distress at finding his hair has lost its color.  After stating the nonsensical length of his hair (line 1),  he questions how it might have grown so long, possibly as a result of his constant worries (line 2).  Lines 3 and 4 use a rhetorical question (where?) to portray Li Bai's anger at his hair having deceived him (or is it a deception of the mirror?) by changing color, symbolizing that he has moved into the autumn of his life.
I find particularly interesting the use of 明 in line 3.  Though it can be read as nothing more than "bright", the character is used in many combinations to mean "knowledge."  Not only does Li Bai's mirror reflect light, it (theoretically) reflects truth.
And a final note: when read aloud, lines 1, 2, and 4 all rhyme.

reference 1/reference 2

Other Translations