These are translations of some of the oldest rhyming poems, both English rhyming poems and rhyming poems from other languages.
Translations of the Oldest Rhyming Poems in the English Language
These are my modern English translations of some of the very best Middle English poems.
This World's Joy
anonymous Middle English poem, circa 1300
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
Winter awakens all my care
as leafless trees grow bare.
For now my sighs are fraught
whenever it enters my thought:
regarding this world's joy,
how everything comes to naught.
[MS. Harl. 2253. f. 49r]
Seeing Off My Elder BrotherLu Zhaolin (634-684/686)
You’ll travel home through frontier mountain roads
To see the blooms and willows of Chang’än;
But now it’s time we part our hands goodbye,
To gaze in silent sorrow, and journey on.
Crossing the Yangtze RiverDu Shenyan (645-708)
Late afternoon, this garden grove, where ancient sorrow roams;
It’s spring, but birds and blossoms too do fill the edge with dread.
Alone, expelled, down south in savage lands, my homeland far—
The Yangtze River water flow shows not its northern tread.
In ancient times a troubled king did send,
Along this very spot, a hero bold—
And though those men have drowned in time’s lost flood,
These waters now are just as dark and cold.
Yú Yì Shuǐ Sòng Rén
Luò Bīn wáng
Cǐ dì bié yān dān
Zhuàng shì fà chōng guān
This anchored boat’s astir in fog and breeze,
As sunset rends my fears up once again,
But as the sky descends beneath the trees,
The river, moon, and quiet become my friends.
By chance I saw her at the corner
Of Fifth and Forty-Eight;
The crowd moved past, we talked at last,
And smiled as on a date.
We planned to meet again sometime
Or talk at any rate,
But the number she gave I failed to save,
As charm’s a poor cousin to fate.
A fern surrounds my life like a hollow maze
In the intricate lattice of love’s first gaze;
Following a pattern that guides me on this road
I reach for her lips beneath the mistletoe.
My love comes forth with the apple of desire,
A tangled taste that takes a life to acquire;
Magic and nightshade in a mandrake stew,
I drink the nighttime herbs in a witch’s brew.
Seared in my skin like a tattoo of her name,
My cry has faded to a touch without shame;
Pulled by a thread that stains the earth and sky