du fu: "delighting in rain on a spring night"

Hey hey, amigos. Anyone still reading?
I’m not dead; I’ve just had a dead-ass six months. Time to get back in the game.

I’ll have more posts coming up later this week, but for now, in honor of the delightful summer rain that just woke me up, here’s a quick translation of Du Fu’s 春夜喜雨, “Delighting in Rain on a Spring Night.”

Delighting in Rain on a Spring Night

Dù Fǔ

A good rain knows its proper time;
It waits until the Spring to fall.
It drifts in on the wind, steals in by night,
Its fine drops drench, yet make no sound at all.
The paths between the fields are cloaked with clouds;
A river-skiff’s lone light still burns.
Come dawn, we’ll see splashes of wet red —
The flowers in Chengdu, weighed down with rain.

No real notes on the translation, other than to say that I know it’s not rhymed or metrical, but I did it just now, so what do you want. Guoxue.com has a page on it in Chinese, but it’s not so much explaining things as enthusing about what a great poet Du Fu was, which, like, duh.

I’ve also seen versions of the poem that have 夜 as the first character of ‘野径云俱黑,’ but I’ll assume that it’s a typo.

In the last line, after toying with the idea of translating it as “Silktown,” I’ve decided not to translate 锦官城 literally. The translations of the poem that I’ve read all do this — Burton Watson gives it as “City of Brocade,” Florence Ayscough as “Embroidered Official City,” and Jerome P. Seaton as “Brocade Mandarin.” With all due respect for my esteemed colleagues, those all sound stupid; Du Fu meant Chengdu, and it sounds clumsy in English, and anyway it’s an allusion that no English reader is going to get without a footnote. Besides, my version of the line scans into nice-sounding iambs.

OK, seriously. New posts later in the week. I’m looking forward to writing them already.

Comments (19)

  1. chriswaugh_bj wrote::

    Your translation gets my fiancee’s approval, and she seems to know the poem from her school days.

    And it’s good to see you’re resurrecting this site.

    Monday, July 25, 2005 at 7:29 am #
  2. Prince Roy wrote::

    wow, just in the nick of time. I was all set to give up on bokane.org

    this poem works for us here in Madras as well, as we have ben getting pounded by evening storms.

    Monday, July 25, 2005 at 1:55 pm #
  3. Todd wrote::

    So, this was just a quickie? It came out well. Translating too literally like some of your “colleagues” can make a poem quite inaccessable.

    The only thing that bothers me a bit is that the rain “waits” until Spring. I think this poem walks a fine line between personifying the rain for descriptive effect, and over-personifying it to the extent that it becomes a being rather than a natural phenomenon. I think that your translation of the second line sways from this line — I read the meaning of the original as more like “It does not fall until the Spring”.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2005 at 6:48 am #
  4. Eh wrote::


    Tuesday, July 26, 2005 at 9:55 am #
  5. Brendan wrote::

    Todd – you’re right, but I picked ‘wait’ in part because I thought it sounded better, and in part because of 乃 there, which (I believe – corrections would be welcome) functions like 则 or 才, giving the line a gloss like “when Spring, thus occur.”

    Wednesday, July 27, 2005 at 1:47 am #
  6. Brendan wrote::

    Roy – we could use a few more storms here: it’s 97 degrees and hellishly humid. And I’m working in the un-airconditioned basement of a public school. Weep, wail!

    Wednesday, July 27, 2005 at 1:55 am #
  7. Todd wrote::

    Brendan – in my rough translation, “not until” has this function.

    Wednesday, July 27, 2005 at 6:17 am #
  8. Brendan wrote::

    Yeah – sorry; I didn’t mean to just throw a literal gloss at you. My thinking at the time was that the use of 乃 suggested a conscious act, though now that I tihnk about it that’s probably wrong.

    Wednesday, July 27, 2005 at 7:59 am #
  9. Brendan wrote::

    Sorry for the delay — busy week, moving out of my apartment, etc. Will have something new up by Wednesday, I promise.

    Monday, August 1, 2005 at 1:03 am #
  10. jamie doom wrote::


    Good to see you posting again. I also just started putting somethings down once again. Now the blog world can survive. Keep it up. It’s just bloody good writing.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2005 at 5:12 pm #
  11. Tim wrote::

    Still waiting … tried to post comment earlier, but your install of MT didn’t let me.


    Tuesday, August 16, 2005 at 3:52 am #
  12. cece wrote::

    wondering…..?why r u interested in chinese ancient poets?

    Wednesday, August 17, 2005 at 5:00 am #
  13. Chris wrote::

    I was kind of hoping you would post again….what are you up to?

    Friday, August 19, 2005 at 2:36 pm #
  14. Gran wrote::

    Yes Brendan, I would like to see you in print.

    Saturday, August 20, 2005 at 3:26 pm #
  15. Lisa Yannucci wrote::


    I have a blog about world culture, festivals, music, poetry, kids songs, etc. Right now I’m writing about Spring, Qingming, among other topics. I found your site by way of Du Fu’s Qingming poem – but then saw this one and liked it better. Would you like me to post it on my site with your translation and a link back to your site?

    Monday, March 26, 2007 at 7:47 am #
  16. Nic wrote::

    As a Chinese and a big fan of Du Fu, i prefer “It waits until the Spring to fall” more than “It does not fall until the Spring”, because the spring rain 春雨means happiness and the title of the poem is “春夜喜雨”.

    it might be little bit strange but “waits until ” makes me feel more delightful than “does not fall until “.

    and thank you Brendan, i do admire you, i know how hard to translate chinese poem into english. if we had your translation in our ENGL301 class (唐·寒山子诗) it would be lot more fun.

    Monday, October 8, 2007 at 7:19 am #
  17. melodica wrote::

    hey,amigo,i’ve read your translation,frankly,it’s very very good…..
    this poem has a good atmosphere and i think you’ve got it..~ i’m a Chinese girl and a super fan of you

    Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 10:31 am #
  18. A.Z. Foreman wrote::


    Maybe. But I dare you to find a way to render Li Bai’s:


    In a way that is both worth reading and yet renders 長安 as just Cháng’ān.

    Myself, I’d go with:

    Forever longing for you
    In the city of Everpeace.

    Friday, October 18, 2013 at 5:02 pm #
  19. Ashley wrote::

    I would actually go more in the second line to be ‘it came in the (mid?) spring’ sort of feel.

    Sunday, December 1, 2013 at 10:31 am #