Chinese Poem: 登鹳雀楼 Dēng guàn què lóu Ascending White Stork Tower

登鹳雀楼 Dēng guàn què lóu is a classical Chinese poem by the Tang dynasty poet 王之渙 (Wang Zhihuan). The English name is Climbing White Stork Tower. It depicts a beautiful scene visible from the Stork tower near the yellow river while climbing up it. Here’s the poem and my English translation of it:





Bái rì yī shān jìn,

huánghé rù hǎiliú.

Yù qióng qiānlǐ mù,

gèng shàng yī céng lóu


My Translation:

The setting sun leans on the furthest mountains,
The Yellow River spreads into the sea.
Yearning to see a thousand miles further?
Just climb one more storey.


Line 1: I picked “lean” to translate 依yī. 尽jìn was hard to translate in this sentence because it means “to the limits” “to the utmost” or “to the greatest extent” — it’s referring to how the mountains are as far away as the eye can see (basically it is as though they are as far away as the sun itself is). Hence theoretically it means at the limits of one’s sight. “Furthest” seems to capture this clearly enough but is not technically accurate.

Line 2: This sentence is quite simple: I picked “spread” to translate 流liú though there are other options (drift, flow, etc.). Having seen artist renditions of this poem’s scene it seems spread is ultimately better as it implies quite a wide volume of water entering the ocean. If you look at satellite maps of where the Yellow River enters the Bohai Sea in Dongying it actually spreads really wide and diffuses the yellow sediment into the ocean over a wide area.

Line 3: 欲穷 is hard to translate so I’ve gone with “yearning”. Basically, the writer is glorifying the scene and in some sense “showing off” that “hey, do you want to see a thousand miles EVEN further?” — however using “yearning” keeps it formal and more poetic.

Line 4: 更上一层楼 of course for Chinese learners you’d recognise that this line has actually become a standalone phrase in the Chinese language due to popularity. It means to “take it to the next level”.

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