Lasting Sorrow: Chinese Literati’s Emotions on their Journeys


  • Ping Wang


This is the first stanza of Lanling Wang (To the Tune ‘Sovereign of wine’), a lyric written by Zhou Bangyan (1056-1121), one of the most well known lyricists of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). Here, the poetic persona (the poet himself in this case) is about to take leave on the embankment built during the Sui Dynasty (589-618). It was customary for ancient Chinese to break off a twig from a willow tree to express their reluctance to part, as the word ‘willow,’ pronounced as liu, is homophonous with the word ‘to stay.’ The sight of willow trees with their waving branches awakens, in the poet, reminiscences of the countless farewells and parting sorrows taking place at river banks such as this one. In the second stanza, the boat that carries the poet has already left the bank, and the poet, lost in the memory of a previous parting scene with his lover, looks back, and sees a distant figure still standing on the dyke.