This is a translation of the poem 苹果树下 (Píngguǒshù Xià) by the 20th century Chinese poet 闻捷 (Wén Jié) , whose pen-name was 赵文节 (Zhào Wénjié) .
The poem was written 1952-1954, soon after the People’s Republic of China was founded with the Communist Party as its government. At this time, the country was entering a period of rapid reorganisation and economic growth, and the Great Leap Forward was only a few years away.
It’s a good way into Chinese poetry for language learners as the language and vocabulary is generally quite simple, but it still makes a compelling and accessible poem.
苹果树下 Píngguǒshù Xià Under the Apple Trees
苹果树下那个小伙子， Píngguǒ shùxià nàgè xiǎohuǒzi, You, that lad under the apple tree,
你不要、不要再唱歌； Nǐ bùyào, bùyào zài chànggē; stop it, stop singing;
姑娘沿着水渠走来了， Gūniang yánzhe shuǐqú zǒu láile, The girl approaches along the canal,
年轻的心在胸中跳着。 Niánqīng de xīn zài xiōngzhōng tiàozhe. a young heart jumping in her chest.
她的心为什么跳啊? Tā de xīn wèishéme tiào a? Why is her heart jumping?
为什么跳得失去节拍? …… Wèishéme tiào dé shīqù jiépāi? …… Why is it jumping without rhythm? ...
春天，姑娘在果园劳作， Chūntiān, gūniang zài guǒyuán láozuò, In spring, the girl labours in the orchard,
歌声轻轻从她耳边飘过， Gēshēng qīng qīng cóng tā ěr biān piāoguò, the song floats softly by her ear,
枝头的花苞还没有开放， Zhī tóu de huābāo hái méiyǒu kāifàng, the buds on the branches have not yet opened,
小伙子就盼望它早结果。 Xiǎohuǒzi jiù pànwàng tā zǎo jiéguǒ. the young man looks forward to them bearing fruit early.
奇怪的念头姑娘不懂得， Qíguài de niàntou gūniang bù dǒngde, A strange thought that the girl does not understand,
她说：别用歌声打扰我。 Tā shuō: Bié yòng gēshēng dǎrǎo wǒ. she says: "Don't disturb me with your singing."
小伙子夏天在果园度过， Xiǎohuǒzi xiàtiān zài guǒyuán dùguò, In summer, the young man spends time in the orchard,
一边劳动一边把姑娘盯着， Yībiān láodòng yībiān bǎ gūniang dīngzhe, at once working and gazing at the girl,
果子才结得葡萄那么大， Guǒzi cái jié de pútáo nàme dà, the fruit are still just the size of grapes,
小伙子就唱着赶快去采摘。 Xiǎohuǒzi jiù chàngzhe gǎnkuài qù cǎizhāi. but the young man sings of picking them now.
满腔的心思姑娘猜不着。 Mǎnqiāng de xīnsī gūniang cāi bùzháo. A heart filled with thoughts the girl cannot guess.
她说：“别像影子一样缠着我。 Tā shuō:“Bié xiàng yǐngzi yīyàng chánzhe wǒ. She says: "Don't latch on to me like a shadow."
淡红的果子压弯绿枝， Dànhóng de guǒzi yā wān lǜ zhī, The pale red fruit pull down on the green branches,
秋天是一个成熟季节， Qiūtiān shì yīgè chéngshú jìjié, autumn is a season of ripening,
姑娘整夜整夜地睡不着， Gūniang zhěng yè zhěng yè de shuì bùzháo, For the whole night, the whole night the girl cannot sleep,
是不是挂念那树好苹果? Shì bùshì guàniàn nà shù hǎo píngguǒ? is she concerned about that apple tree?
这些事小伙子应该明白， Zhèxiē shì xiǎohuǒzi yīnggāi míngbái, The young man should understand these things;
她说：有句话你怎么不说? Tā shuō: Yǒu jù huà nǐ zěnme bù shuō? she says: "If you have words to say, why not say them?"
……苹果树下那个小伙子， ……Píngguǒ shùxià nàgè xiǎohuǒzi, You, that lad under the apple tree,
你不要，不要再唱歌； Nǐ bùyào, bùyào zài chànggē; Stop it, stop singing;
姑娘踏着草坪过来了， Gūniang tàzhe cǎopíng guòláile, The girl approaches, treading on the grass,
她的笑容里藏着什么?…… Tā de xiàoróng lǐ cángzhe shénme?…… what is hidden in her smile? ...
说出那句真心的话吧! Shuō chū nà jù zhēnxīn dehuà ba! Just say those heartfelt words!
种下的爱情已该收获。 Zhòng xià de àiqíng yǐ gāi shōuhuò. It's already time to harvest the love that has been planted.
The metaphors in the poem are uncomfortably obvious and simple, but this could well be intentional as it’s about unsubtle, naive emotions. It was also written in the early days of rule by the Communist Party, when society seemed to be on the road to somewhere better, and later tragedies such as the Great Leap Forward had yet to occur. The innocence of the poem could be a reflection of that.
The poem also describes a time when a hard-working attitude was one of the most admired qualities in China. A lot of people have pointed out how today, no money often means no respect, regardless of your other qualities.
Some proverbs related to the poem
含苞待放 Hánbāo dài fàng [keep] [bud] [wait] [open] to wait for a budding flower
情窦初开 Qíngdòuchūkāi [passion] [open] [first] [open] love's first awakening
如影随形 Rúyǐngsuíxíng [like] [shadow] [follow] [form] to follow like a shadow
形影不离 Xíngyǐngbùlí [form] [shadow] [not] [separate] form and shadow cannot be parted; inseparable