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Su Shi: When the catkins are vanishing in weakening wind -蝶恋花 . 花褪残红青杏小

蝶恋花 . 花褪残红青杏小

原作:苏东坡 (11世纪)












When the catkins are vanishing in weakening wind

– to the tune “Butterflies in Love with Flowers”

written by Su Dongpo(11th century)

translated by Julia Min (2022)

When the catkins are vanishing in weakening wind,

and the spring blossoms give way to apricots green,

swallows swoop around the houses and over waters.

There is splendour in grass as the glory in flowers.

Behind the walls some girls are laughing on swings.

Outside on the road a traveller’s lost in thinking,

until the rejoicing cheers faded in the distance.

The sentiments of autumn, the innocence of spring.

For appreciation:

This poem could be, more likely, written in Huangzhou, Hubei Province. The composing structure is designed by contrasting between the young and the old, the happy world and the lonely melancholy, and possibly, the favoured new party inside the Song Royal Court and the banished old party outside. Dongpo made an effort in the last line of the first stanza comforting himself with an optimistic turn of tone: life still has so much to offer. Let’s appreciate and enjoy the ‘philosophic mind’ that can only be obtained as one ages.

The second stanza ends with a strong sentiment on the desperate situation of his official career, his ambition and contribution for the country unappreciated and wasted here in a desolate town of Huangzhou. It’s a sarcastic comment made with the two antonyms: the outside and the inside — the heartfelt sentiments and the heartless innocence.

‘splendour in grass’ and ‘the glory in flowers’ are borrowed from Wordsworth’s poetry: “…The radiance which was once so bright
Is now forever taken from my sight.
Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass
Of glory in the flower
We will grieve not
Rather find strength in what remains behind.”


1. Blooming Alone in Winter by Gordon Osing, Julia Min and Huang Haipeng,published by the People’s Publication House Henan Province in 1991 (《寒心未肯随春态》戈登.奥赛茵,闵晓红,黄海鹏) (“It’s time for flowers to fade and wither; the tiny apricots are green./And swallows dart over the fish ponds around the houses./ The wind can’t scatter the catkin willows any more./Where is not the spice of all things growing?//Inside a wall a lady swings, outside I have my road, apart./Outside the wall a wanderer walking, inside a lady’s pretty laughing./It seems that laughter fades forever on the wanderer’s ears;/He feels too much and knows that laughing knows no heart.”)

2. pictures from 汪国新

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