漁父辭 – 楚辭 The Fisherman’s Song – Songs of Chu

漁父1辭  – 楚辭2 The Fisherman’s Song – Songs of Chu

I found two other translation of this “song”.  For those who are interested, one is in English from a Korean blog and the other, a Cantonese interpretation which I find to be very succinct and delightful.



Translation is difficult due to cultural differences in the source and target language.  I shall attempt to give a more literal and accurate translation given along the side of the original.  A more polished and natural version in the target language is given later.

Ch’ü Yuan was let go.

Wandering leisurely along rivers and lakes

While walking and sighing along the banks

Looking haggard

appearing withered

An elderly fisherman saw and asked him,

Are you not a feudal lord of the Three Great Clans?11

Why are did you come here?

Ch’ü Yuan said,

The entire world is polluted, I am only pure

The people are drunk, I am only sober

you see my exile.

The elderly fisherman said

Saints, not because of things would freeze and make them sluggish. Moreover able to push and shove the world.

people in the world are polluted, then why not stir the mud and raise the waves?

The masses are drunk why not eat its sediment and suck at its filtered wine?

Why care so much in your deep thoughts to become lofty and cause yourself to be exiled?

Ch’ü Yuan said,

I hear that the newly ones who had cleaned their hair would flick their caps [to rid of the dust]

Those who cleaned their bodies would flap their clothes

How can then the body that is spotless

be suffered by things that are impure?

rather that I would meet the waters of River Xiang and be buried inside the fish bellies.

How can the purity of whiteness be obscured by the dirt  of the vulgar world?

The elderly fisherman with a smile and a laugh, rowing the oar and left.

Then he sang

Alas, if the waves are clean, I can wash my tassel

Alas, if the waves are dirty, I can wash my feet

Thus left and did not return nor replied.

Ch’ü Yuan was let go of his post and was wandering without any care amongst the rivers and lakes.  While strolling and sighing along the banks, he was looking haggard and appeared to be a shadow of his former self.  An elderly fisherman saw him and asked,

“Are you not a Lord from the Three Great Clans? Why are you here?”

Ch’ü Yuan replied,

“The world is polluted but not me.  All intoxicated but only I, am sober.  Hence what you see is my exile.”

The fisherman remarked,

“Nothing can hold the enlightened back. They can change the world. If all the men are polluted why not stir the mud to make it even muddier?  If the multitudes are intoxicated, why not eat the wine sediment and imbue its poor quality? Why do you have to think so loftily to become so special that you get yourself exiled?”

Ch’ü Yuan explained,

“I hear those who newly washed their hair always flick the dust off their caps;  those with a cleansed body would flap their clothes to rid of the dust first. How could I? With cleanliness, how can I allow things of impurity be near me? I rather jump into the River Xiang and become fish food! How can I let the dirt of the vulgar world cover my purity?”

The fisherman gave a smile and with a laugh started to sing,

“Alas, if the waves are clean, I’ll wash my balding hair.  Alas if the waves are dirty, I’ll wash my feet!”

Thus the fisherman left and did not return, no longer caring for anymore conversation.

  1. Cannot be translated as “father”. It is a common honorific term of address to an elderly man.
  2. Also known as “Songs/Verses of the South” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chu_Ci
  3. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qu_Yuan
  4. Here “let go” means that he was exiled.
  5.  It can also mean to sing or in a tone of reciting poetry. Given the context, “singing” would not be appropriate since he was exiled. Recitation of poetry is another possibility since he was a poet. Perhaps he was also composing a poem of his own.
  6. Any place where water is gathered naturally. Therefore, a pond, a lake or even marshes and swamps can be a possibility. To translate this as well, would be considered redundant in English.
  7. The modern meaning is “color”. Here it refers to the color in his face.
  8. Here it means “you” and not “son” or “master”
  9. A unit containing 25 families. Here it means the three clans that made up the royal house of the State of Chu, the 屈, 景 and 昭.
  10.  Here it means a senior official of feudal China and not a doctor!
  11. The fisherman recognized him. The question is rhetorical.
  12. Same as 哺, to eat.
  13. To sup or to suck as sucking in one’s soup. It is considered as a variant of 啜 or 欼.
  14. In other versions, the character given is 醨 a thin or inferior wine.
  15. 沐 means to wash the hair. 浴 means to cleanse the body. Thus沐浴更衣 means to wash the hair, clean the body and change into clean clothes. A cleansing ritual for some important ceremony, rituals etc.
  16. Literally to mean flick the cap. Scholars or persons of high personage are allowed to wear caps to denote their position. It means to adjust their caps properly so that they can present themselves to their superiors.  Wang Yi, the imperial court historian of the Han dynasty, annotated commented that this means to flick off dust from the cap.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Yi_(librarian)
  17. There are two ways in which it can be translated, the azure green color of the waves or the waves in the vastness of the body of water. I chose the former interpretation because of the purity of the water.
  18. Tufts of hair-like or things that are made of string or rope ornaments. For example,  紅纓槍 is a Chinese spear with red tufts of hair like adornment where the wooden bar meets the metal head.  Since it is near the top, I interpret this as the hair tufts surrounding a bald head.紅纓槍

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s