River Snow

Liu Zongyuan (773 – 819)
A thousand mountains, skies bereft of birds,
Ten thousand paths, untread since long ago;
One boat—an old man in a bamboo hat
Alone and fishing in the river snow.

江雪Jiāng Xuě
柳宗元Liǔ Zōngyuán
千山鳥飛絕Qiān shān niǎo fēi jué
萬徑人蹤滅Wàn jìng rén zōng miè
孤舟簑笠翁Gū zhōu suō lì wēng
獨釣寒江雪Dú diào hán shān xuě

Transliteration and Notes
River Snow
Thousand mountain birds fly by-no-means
Ten-thousand footpaths men’s footprints wiped-out
Solitary boat raincoat bamboo-rain-hat old-man
Alone fishing cold river snow
     This poem paints a beautiful scene of a vast, desolate winter landscape with only a single fisherman bringing life to the picture. Thousands of mountains, but the skies are empty of birds. Innumerable footpaths, but no steps visible since it’s covered in snow. The only sign of life is a single boat with one man fishing in the snow. The author heightens the feel of isolation by contrasting the thousands of mountains and footpaths with the empty skies and lack of footprints, then by emphasizing the solitary boat and the fisherman alone. This contrasting style was prized in Chinese poetry.
     Like many of China’s great poets, Liu Zongyuan was a government official whose reform faction fell out of favor. He was exiled and there produced some of his greatest poetry, of which this is one of his best known.

Author of original: 
Liu Zongyuan