Title: Bamboo Branch Song ▪ 竹枝词
Author: Liu YuXi
▪ 刘禹锡
Poetic Form: júejù 绝句

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

1. (杨 + 柳) + (青 + 青) (江 + (水 + 平))
    (willow + willow) + (aqua + aqua) + (river +
        (water + level))
    gloss: Willows (branches) touch the surface of
    the blue-green river

2. 闻 + (郎 + (江 + 上) + (唱 + 歌 + 声))
    to hear + (darling + (river + on) + (sing + song +
    gloss: I hear my darling singing a song (voice
    carrying over the water)

3. ((东 + 边) + (日 + 出)) + ((西 + 边) + 雨)
    ((east + side) + (sun + emerge)) + ((west + side)
        + rain)
     gloss: It is sunny in the east, it rains in the west

4. 道 + 是 + ((无 + 晴) + 却 + (有 + 晴))
     path + to be + ((no + sunny) + yet + (has +
     gloss: The path ahead is grey yet sunny


Bamboo Branch Song
translation by Jessica Alexander ©

Willows droop down to kiss the river's aqua crest;
I hear my darling's voice in song float across the
To the east, the sun; to the west, the rain...
Nature is bitter cold yet kindly warm.


The “Bamboo Branch Songs” were a form of folk love ballad from the Sichuan region in Liu Yuxi’s time; their singing was accompanied by drums, flutes, and dancing.  The poet was posted to Kuizhou (present day Fengjie), where he became familiar with the local folk songs.

This poem, #1, tells the tale of a young maiden who is overcome with her first, young love.  She does not, however, know if the object of her affection shares her sentiments and is thus full of worry and hesitation.  Lines 1 and 2 set the scene: line 1 tells us what the young woman sees (the trees bordering the river) while line 2 tells us what she hears (a song sung in a voice she knows well).  Lines 3 and 4 indicate how she feels after hearing this song.  Though she has known for some time how she feels about the young man, she still does not know his feelings for her.  She is consoled by thinking, however, that this is something akin to a day when you cannot tell what the weather will be: if you say it’s rainy, there will be blue sky in the distance; if you say the weather is fine, rain clouds will hover nearby.

Liu Yuxi subtly employs language typical of a young, southern maiden.  He also uses a classic ballad technique of double entendre: (qíng, ‘sunny skies’) stands in for (qíng, ‘passion’).  Just as one cannot be certain of the weather, one also cannot know another’s heart.  This kind of homophonic play on words has long been popular among the Chinese masses.  Other doubles, such as and are used cues to alert the reader/listener to the upcoming play on words.  Lines 1 and 3 have interior oblique rhyme (line 1: & , line 3: & ).


Other Translations