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孟冬寒氣至 translation - In the First Month of Winter, Cold Air Arrives

This is a translation of the Chinese poem 孟冬寒氣至 (Mèng dōng hán qì zhì), the seventeenth poem in the Han dynasty collection 古詩十九首 (Nineteen Old Poems).

孟冬寒氣至 mèng dōng hán qì zhì [first month] [winter] [cold] [air] [come] In the first month of winter, cold air comes;

北風何慘慄 běi fēng hé cǎn lì [north] [wind] [how] [cruel] [afraid] how cruel and fearsome the northern wind!

愁多知夜長 chóu duō zhī yè cháng [worry] [many] [know] [night] [long] My worries are many as I know the night is long;

仰觀眾星列 yǎng guān zhòng xīng liè [look up] [look at] [multitude] [star] [line up] I look above to see the multitude of stars lined up.

三五明月滿 sān wǔ míng yuè mǎn [three] [five] [bright] [moon] [full] On the 15th, there was a bright full moon,

四五蟾兔缺 sì wǔ chán tù quē [four] [five] [toad] [rabbit] [wane] and on the 20th the Toad and Rabbit waned.

客從遠方來 kè cóng yuǎnfāng lái [stranger] [from] [far] [place] [come] A stranger from distant quarters comes,

遺我一書札 yí wǒ yī shū zhá [leave with] [me] [one] [letter] [note] and leaves with me a letter.

上言長相思 shàng yán zhǎng xiàng sī [top] [words] [long] [each other] [think] At the top it spoke of thinking of one another endlessly,

下言久離別 xià yán jiǔ lí bié [bottom] [words] [long] [leave] [separate] and at the end it spoke of a long separation.

置書懷袖中 zhì shū huái xiù zhōng [put] [letter] [cherish] [sleeve] [in] I put the letter, cherished, in my sleeve,

三歲字不滅 sān suì zì bù miè [three] [year] [word] [not] [extinguish] and after three years the words have not diminished.

一心抱區區 yī xīn bào qū qū [one] [heart] [hold] [trivial] With my heart I hold something trivial,

懼君不識察 jù jūn bù shí chá [fear] [you] [not] [recognise] [observe] afraid that you may not recognise it.

Notes on this poem

The characters 蟾兔 refer to the Toad and the Rabbit, which were perceived in the shadows on the Moon.

Putting letters in one’s sleeves (置書懷袖中) was a common practice. It seems that many women at the time wore long robes, and poems frequently mention secret notes and romantic letters that were kept hidden in the sleeves.

In the line 一心抱區區, translated as ‘With my heart I hold something trivial’, 一 seems to be equivalent to the character 以. The binome 區區 in this line, meaning ‘trivial’, also appears in the much earlier Hanfeizi with the same meaning.

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Relevant books

Series: Nineteen Old Poems

  1. 行行重行行 Translation - Marching On and On
  2. 青青河畔草 Translation - Green, Green, Grass on the Riverbank
  3. 青青陵上柏 translation - Green, Green, Cypress on the Mound
  4. 今日良宴會 translation – Today we hold a splendid feast
  5. 西北有高樓 translation - A Tall Tower in the Northwest
  6. 涉江采芙蓉 translation - Crossing the River to Pick Hibiscus
  7. 明月皎夜光 translation - The Clear Moon Shines Brightly by Night
  8. 冉冉孤生竹 translation - Frail Bamboo Growing Alone
  9. 庭中有奇樹 translation - In the Courtyard there is a Strange Tree
  10. 迢迢牽牛星 translation - So Remote, the Draught Ox Star
  11. 迴車駕言邁 translation - I turn the carriage, pull the reins and set off
  12. 東城高且長 translation - The Eastern Wall is High and Long
  13. 驅車上東門 translation - I Ride My Chariot from the Upper East Gate
  14. 去者日以疏 translation - The Departed Are More Distant Daily
  15. 生年不滿百 translation - The Years of Life Reach Not One Hundred
  16. 凜凜歲云暮 translation - Bitterly Cold, the Year Ends
  17. 孟冬寒氣至 translation - In the First Month of Winter, Cold Air Arrives (this article)

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