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關雎 / Guān jū

From the Airs of the States, Songs of Zhou and the South / 國風 周南

Introduction: Three Chinese poems for the HTL Legacy website April, 2022

We have three poems for the website this time from three different eras of Chinese history. The first is from the Classic of Poetry, which dates from the earliest historical period for which we have reliable records. The second is from the Six Dynasties period and the third from the Song dynasty.

We have provided the modern standard Hanyu pinyin transliterations of the sounds of the characters to increase the readers’ enjoyment. The sounds of the characters would have been significantly different in the times when the poems were written. We hope that readers will enjoy reading the poems in Chinese, in pinyin and in English translations. As always, feedback and suggestions and discussion are welcome.

Ellen Soullière Wellington, New Zealand


Ospreys 關雎

This is the first poem in the Classic of Poetry 詩經, a text that dates from perhaps the eighth century BCE. Entitled Ospreys, it appears to be a simple love poem celebrating the courtship of a well born young lady by a prince. Later interpretations of the poem associated it with the Zhou dynasty King Wen and his queen Taisi. I had two earlier translations of this poem to consult: one by the 19th century scholar, James Legge, and one by 20th century scholar Arthur Waley. Waley’s “water mallows” seemed a better choice than Legge’s “duckweed” as the translation of 荇菜. Though neither Legge nor Waley did so, I decided to translate 左右 as “attendants”, which is what this word often means in later texts, and to also include the words “Left and right” to give a sense of the back and forth movements of the attendants as they gather and pluck the water mallows.

國風 周南

From the Airs of the States, Songs of Zhou and the South


Guān jū



​Guānguān jūjiū

Guanguan the ospreys call


​Zài hé zhī zhōu.

On an island in the river.


Yǎotiǎo shū nǚ

The reticent and virtuous young lady,


​Junzi hǎo qiú.

A good match for the prince.


​Cēncī xìngcài

Uneven grow the water mallows


​Zuǒyòu liú zhī.

​Left and right, attendants follow them in the current.


​Yǎotiǎo shūnǚ

​The reticent and virtuous young lady,


Wùmèi qiú zhī.

Waking and sleeping, he seeks her.


​Qiú zhī bù dé,

​Seeks her and fails to find her.


​Wùmèi sī fú

​Waking and sleeping, he thinks of her.


​Yōuzāi. Yōuzāi.

Pensively, wistfully,


​Zhǎn zhuǎn fǎn cè.

​Now on his back, now turning onto his side.

​參差 荇菜

​Cēngcī xìngcài

​Uneven grow the water mallows,


​Zuǒyòu cǎi zhī.

​Left and right, attendants pluck them.


​Yǎotiǎo shūnǚ

​The reticent and virtuous young lady,


​Qǐnsè yǒu zhī.

​With zithers small and large, befriend her.


​Cēncī xìngcài,

​Uneven grow the water mallows,


​Zuǒyòu mào zhī.

​Left and right, attendants pick them.


​Yǎotiǎo shūnǚ,

​The reticent and virtuous young lady,


​Zhōnggǔ yuè zhī.

​With bells and drums make music for her.

Ospreys 關雎
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Birds in a lotus pond (ca. 1690) by Zhu Da (朱耷. Also known as Bada Shanren, 八大山人, 1626–1705). Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): Asian Art Collection

49 views3 comments


This is a test to see whether I get an email notifying me that a comment has been made on a poem I "loved".


I just want you to see what a comment looks like


Debi Carter
Debi Carter
Jul 11, 2022

I'm very excited to see how the Poetry Pavilion works out

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