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4 English translations of “Prelude to Water Melody”


《水调歌头》苏轼 Prelude to Water Melody

míng yuè jǐ shí yǒu? bǎ jiǔ wèn qīng tiān.


bùzhī tiān shàng gōng què, jīn xī shì hé nián?


wǒ yù chéng fēng guī qù, yòu kǒng qióng lóu yù yǔ, gāo chùbù shèng hán.


qǐ wǔ nòng qīng yǐng, hé sì zài rén jiān?


zhuǎn zhū gé, dī qǐ hù, zhào wú mián.


bù yīng yǒu hèn, hé shìcháng xiàng bié shí yuán?


rén yǒu bēi huān lí hé, yuè yǒu yīn qíng yuán quē, cǐ shì gǔ nán quán.


dàn yuàn rén cháng jiǔ, qiān lǐ gòng chán juān.


Prelude to Water Melody

Translated by Xu Yuanchong (许渊冲)

How long will the full moon appear?

Wine cup in hand, I ask the sky.

I do not know what time of the year

It would be tonight in the palace on high.

Riding the wind, there I would fly,

Yet I'm afraid the crystalline palace would be

Too high and cold for me.

I rise and dance, with my shadow I play.

On high as on earth, would it be as gay?

The moon goes round the mansions red

Through gauze-draped window soft to shed

Her light upon the sleepless bed.

Why then when people part, is the oft full and bright?

Men have sorrow and joy; they part or meet again;

The moon is bright or dim and she may wax or wane.

There has been nothing perfect since the olden days.

So let us wish that man

Will live long as he can!

Though miles apart, we'll share the beauty she displays.

Prelude to Water Ripple

Translated by Gong Jinghao (龚景浩)

"When shall we have a bright moon? "

Holding up a wine cup I queried the Blue Heaven:

"Tell me, in the celestial palace up so high

What year in its annals is tonight. "

I'd like to ride the wind and go there

But was afraid it would be too cold up on high

In rose to my feet and danced with my own shadow.

'Twas not too bad down here!

The moon turned round the vermilion penthouse,

Casting its beams down through the lattice windows

And shining on the sleepless.

It need not evoke sadness, you know,

But why is it always so bright when the loved one's away?

We all have joys and sorrows, partings and re-unions.

The moon, it's phases of resplendence,

Waxings and wanings—

Nothing in this world is ever perfect.

I wish a long life to us all.

Then, however far apart we are

We'd still be sharing the same enchanting moonlight.

Prelude to Water Melody 

Translated by Lin Yutang (林语堂)

How rare the moon, so round and clear!

With cup in hand, I ask of the blue sky,

"I do not know in the celestial sphere

What name this festive night goes by?"

I want to fly home, riding the air,

But fear the ethereal cold up there,

The jade and crystal mansions are so high!

Dancing to my shadow,

I feel no longer the mortal tie.

She rounds the vermilion tower,

Stoops to silk-pad doors,

Shines on those who sleepless lie.

Why does she, bearing us no grudge,

Shine upon our parting, reunion deny?

But rare is perfect happiness–

The moon does wax, the moon does wane,

And so men meet and say goodbye.

I only pray our life be long,

And our souls together heavenward fly!


Translated by Zhu Manhua (朱曼华)

How many times will the full moon rise? 

Upholding a cup of wine, I ask the blue sky. 

Tonight I wonder which year is passing by 

In the heavenly paradise. 

With the wind, I'd like to go there; 

I'm afraid it's too cold in the sky 

With the jade-palace being too high. 

Dancing to play with a cool shadow 

Is analogous to our human world? 

The moonlight is over my red corridor, 

Looking at my gorgeous door; 

Why I'm sleepless, I wonder. 

Don't blame on the moon any more; 

Why does it turn full when we are farewell? 

Man will vary with vicissitudes of life 

The full moon alternates the crescent, rain or shine. 

Nothing has been perfect since the ancient time. 

However, may you live a long life; 

The moon we share across 1,000 miles. 


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