Wen Tianxiang: Since ancient times, who has not died?

Since ancient times, who has not died?
Let me keep a loyal heart to shine from the pages of history.
Wen Tianxiang (1236–1282) 文天祥, "Crossing the sea of Lingding" 過零丁洋. Wen is still known as a patriotic hero for his resistance to the Mongol invasion of China.

Lin Yutang: It was a good show


One can learn such a lot and enjoy such a lot in seventy years, and three generations is a long, long time to see human follies and acquire human wisdom. Anyone who is wise and has lived long enough to witness the changes of fashion and morals and politics through the rise and fall of three generations should be perfectly satisfied to rise from his seat and go away saying, 'It was a good show,' when the curtain falls.

Lin Yutang (1895–1976), The Importance of Living (1937)


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Liu Cixin: Nothing has disappeared


“From a scientific perspective, ‘destroy’ isn’t really accurate. Nothing has disappeared. All the matter that used to be there is still there, and so is all the angular momentum. It’s only the arrangement of matter that has changed, like a deck of cards being reshuffled. But life is like a straight flush: once you shuffle, it’s gone.” 

Windfall, an astronomer, in Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

Du Fu: My soul does not come when called


How did I come to spend my life in this miserable valley?
In the middle of the night I get up. Ten thousand worries and griefs...
My soul does not come when called. It's gone back to its old home.

Du Fu (712–770). Although he was one of China's greatest poets, he lived in tumultuous times, lost two children to starvation, wandered as an exile with his family far from home, dependent on wealthier friends, and spent the last part of his life in great sickness and poverty. From "Seven poems written while living at Tonggu during the Qianyuan Era" (758–760)




Message from a dead father to his child


Before long I will leave this earth. I am trying to stay calm, to talk with you for the first and last time on this paper. I fear you can’t imagine what it’s like, alas. To face this moment and be unable to see you once, to hug you once, to kiss you once ... I am heartbroken. My regret is unending. 

  –Huang Wen-kung 黃溫恭 (1920–1953), a political prisoner condemned to execution in 1950s Taiwan, writing to his unborn child. The family was told he had killed himself. His daughter finally received her father's letter in 2008, at age 56, after her daughter found it in government archives.


我不久就要和世間永別了。用萬分的努力來鎮靜心腦,來和妳做一次最初而最終的紙上談話吧。我的這心情 恐怕妳不能想像吧! 嗚呼!臨於此時不能見妳一面,抱妳一回, 吻妳一嘴…………我甚感遺憾! 長恨不盡!



Confucius: We do not know life, how can we know death?


Ji Lu asked about the best way to serve ghosts and spirits. The master said, "You have not yet served humans well, how is it you wonder about ghosts and spirits?" Ji Lu ventured to ask about death. The master said, "We do not yet understand life, how could we understand death?"

  --Confucius (ca 551–479 BC), as quoted in The Analects, 先進 (Xian Jin). 


Li Yu: How much sorrow can there be?


To the Tune of The Beauty from Yu

Spring flowers, autumn moon, when do they come to an end?
Looking at past times, I know just how much
In the little tower last night, an east wind again
I cannot bear to turn my head toward the old country under the bright moon
The carven railings, the jade-white steps must still be there
Only the fair faces have changed.
I ask you, how much sorrow can there be?
As much as the great river flowing east in spring floods.

    --Li Yu 李煜 (937-978), last king of the southern Tang dynasty, lost his kingdom and finished his life a prisoner of the new Song dynasty. Li Yu is considered one of China's major poets. 

You can hear famous Chinese singer Deng Lijun 鄧麗君 (Teresa Deng) singing this poem here



Xin Qiji: I somehow cannot mention it


To the tune "The Ugly Slave-girl"

When I was young and had never tasted grief, I loved to climb towers.
I loved to climb towers to write elegant poems about my grief.
But now that I have tasted the utmost dregs of grief, I somehow cannot mention it.
I somehow cannot mention it. Instead I say, "What nice brisk autumn weather."

      --Chinese poet Xin Qiji 辛棄疾 (1140-1207)



Shi Jing: No one else has no one-- only I bear such grief


The tall thriving herbs
are not herbs, they are hao weeds.
Alas, my father and mother,
who had me and took such pains.
The tall thriving herbs
are not herbs, they are wei weeds.
Alas, my father and mother,
who had me with toil and care.

This wine-jar is empty now,
ashamed to stand near the full ones.
Living as lonely as this,
I should have died long ago.
No father-- no one to support.
No mother-- no one to take care.
When I go out, I brood on their deaths.
When I come in, no one is there.

My father begot me, alas,
my mother nurtured me, alas.
They loved me, they fed me,
they raised me, they taught me.
They watched me, they sheltered me.
I want to pay back their goodness,
boundless as the wide sky.

The southern mountains are stark and cold,
the howling wind is rising.
No one else has no one to help,
only I have this grief.
The southern mountains are ridges of stone,
the howling wind is blasting.
No one else has no one to help,
only I have this sad end.

      --This poem is from the ancient Chinese Classic of Poetry, or Shi Jing 詩經. It is a collection of the songs of the people and has been studied in China since the time of Confucius (551-479 BC). The songs date from 1000 BC to about 700 BC. This poem is number 202. The whole poem in Chinese is here. Here are some other English translations of the entire poem.  a  b  c




父兮生我, 母兮鞠我。