Night Mooring at Maple Bridge
by Zhang Ji, A.D. 730(?)-780(?)
This is one of the best-loved Chinese poems. It perfectly, photographically captures a moment of consciousness.
The poet is woken from a troubled sleep. He is in a boat, moored on a canal in Suzhou City, by a small bridge named Maple Bridge. The bridge is still there. Because of the poem, it is very famous. If you visit Suzhou, you can stand in the very spot at which Zhang Ji's boat was moored (I have). There is a map of the location here.
Zhang Ji is an obscure figure. None of my reference books, in either English or Chinese, has much to say about him. His dates would seem to be about a.d. 730-780, this poem likely having been written in the 750s. A thumbnail biography in a Chinese reference work offers only the following:
Zhang Ji, style [that is, the adult name taken at age 20, distinct from the "milk name" of childhood and the "memorial name" awarded to the famous] Yisun, was a native of Xiangzhou (present-day Xiangyang County in Hubei Province). He graduated Jinshi [i.e. was a successful candidate in the highest level of the imperial examination system for government service] in the twelfth year of reign-title Tianbao [i.e. of the Xuanzong Emperor's second reign title, equivalent to a.d. 753]. He was then appointed a Secretary, Second Class in the Board of Inspection of Schools and Temples at Hongzhou (present-day Nanchang City in Jiangxi Province). He died in Hongzhou.
[And note: There is another Zhang Ji, also a poet, born about 50 years later than this one. The surnames (ÕÅ, pronounced "Zhang") are the same, but the given names (the earlier ¼Ì, the later ¼®, both pronounced "Ji") are different written characters in Chinese, and pronounced in different tones (4th, 2nd). So far as I know the two poets are not related. This later Zhang Ji — he graduated in a.d. 799 — is the one mentioned several times in Arthur Waley's biography of Po Chü-I.]
• Play the reading
• Text of the poem
Witter Bynner's translation of this poem, in his book The Jade Mountain, is as follows:
A Night-Mooring Near Maple Bridge
While I watch the moon go down, a crow caws through the frost;
Under the shadows of maple-trees a fisherman moves with his torch;
And I hear, from beyond Su-chou, from the temple on Cold Mountain,
Ringing for me, here in my boat, the midnight bell.
An utterly literal, word-for-word, translation goes like this:
Maple Bridge Night Mooring
Moon set, crow cry, frost fill sky,
River maples, fisherman light, oppose anxious sleep,
Suzhou city outside, Cold Mountain temple,
Night-middle bell sound to visitor boat.