du mu: "tomb-sweeping day"

Today’s poem is a nice short one: “Qingming,” or “Tomb-Sweeping day,” by late Tang Dynasty poet Du Mu (803 – 852).

The title refers to the traditional Qingming holiday, on which people would – and still do – go to tend the tombs of their ancestors.

A longer poem tomorrow, by Ouyang Xiu. Happy Thanksgiving to US readers, unless you voted for Bush.

杜牧: 清明


Du Mu: Tomb-Sweeping Day

Tomb-Sweeping Day, and the rain spatters down.
On the road, travellers are too mournful to bear.
Where’s a tavern, I cry, and a lad points the way
To a village far off in the apricot trees.

Comments (9)

  1. Todd wrote::

    Hmm, that’s one of the few ancient poems that I can appreciate. I admire you Brendan! I was given 唐诗三百首 by a friend, but I can’t understand them well enough to enjoy them. However, I recently bought an anthology of modern chinese poetry. It’s all baihua, and I can finally get that poetic feeling from reading them.

    Good translation, except I have doubts about L2. Too mournful for who to bear? But definitely tricky to translate, and I think you’re correct not to try to translate “欲断魂” too literally. I also wonder about “cry” on L3. Actually, looking at just the english version I like “cry”, it makes the reader wonder why the persona is so desperate to get to a tavern! But it doesn’t seem faithful to the original, where the persona seems to be politely asking a question, and presumably wouldn’t raise his/her voice in such a mournful atmosphere.

    Thursday, November 25, 2004 at 9:08 am #
  2. John wrote::

    So, you don’t take issue with the traditional translation of “tomb-sweeping day”? 清明 sounds infinitely better. I was hoping you might have something up your sleeve for that one…

    Thursday, November 25, 2004 at 8:51 pm #
  3. Brendan wrote::

    Todd – you’re right; I just liked the sound of “Where’s a tavern, I cry” for some reason.

    John – I admit, I didn’t put that much effort into the translation, but I don’t think that “Tomb-Sweeping Day” is all that bad. I’m agreed that “Qingming” sounds better, but leaving it as such, or translating it literally, would require a footnote, and I just couldn’t be arsed.

    Friday, November 26, 2004 at 12:45 am #
  4. matt wrote::

    Well, I like the fact that you spell ‘arse’ correctly. That and the fact that I could actually read this poem and understand it in Chinese. :p
    When are you comming back to China?

    Friday, November 26, 2004 at 9:44 am #
  5. trevelyan wrote::

    A really nice poem, although I keep wanting to say 酒吧 instead of 酒家. My other favourite is the easier:



    Saturday, November 27, 2004 at 3:11 am #
  6. John wrote::


    Perhaps he spelled it “correctly” because he used it in a way that no Americans I know ever would…

    Sunday, November 28, 2004 at 12:36 am #
  7. chris wrote::

    good doubts! i agree with todd. “I cry” looks like different from the original

    Monday, December 20, 2004 at 10:52 am #
  8. Allen wrote::

    Is there any way of working in “shepherd lad” or “herdsman lad” without it becoming too bulky?

    And yes, “I cry,” though a nice line on its own, doesn’t translate “jiewen,” which is something more akin to Mandarin “laojia” or “qingwen.”

    I would also be tempted to substitute “blossoms” or “blooms” for “trees” in the translation.

    Nice to see some interest in a great tradition, keep at it!


    Wednesday, March 2, 2005 at 2:50 pm #
  9. marty wrote::

    hi -just came across this site..anyone there familiar with a poem about tomb sweeping day going something like: “the chin ming rain piercing every soul…seems to have no end”..any idea who wrote this?…please reply to my e-mail address (embee1@webtv.net)..thanks..marty

    Thursday, April 14, 2005 at 3:17 am #