Chinese poem — 悯农 (mǐn nóng)

One of the most famous and meaningful poems in Chinese is called 悯农 (mǐn nóng). Most young children in China, even from the age of three or four know this poem. It traces its origins to ancient Chinese so the language is not typical of modern Mandarin.






chú hé rì dāng wǔ,

hàn dī hé xià tǔ,

shuí zhī pán zhōngcān,

lì lì jiē xīnkǔ!

I’ve seen a couple of translations of this poem but I don’t think they do it justice, so I’ve proposed my own translation below:

Hoeing grain in the blaze of noon,
Sweat drops fall — grain to earth, 
Who knows food in the plate, 
How toilful each granule is!

I love this poem because it communicates a necessary gratitude we should have for farmers who work behind the scenes to create the food which our society so desperately depends on. Having endured famine and times of great hunger it’s inherent in Chinese culture that all have an appreciation for food. This poem represents an grateful attitude that we should all have, an appreciation for the difficulty and toil of growing and preparing food.

6 Replies to “Chinese poem — 悯农 (mǐn nóng)”

  1. Shawn, thanks for the excellent word by word, line by line explication of this short but powerfully evocative poem. Allow me to add a little more background to it for future visitors here: it was written during the period of Tang Dynasty (618-907) by neither of its two most salient Tang poets, i.e., Tu Fu and Li Po (mutual contemporaries of the 8th century);c but by a Mandarin court official and sometime poet of the 9th century…Li Shen was his name.

    1. This style of poem is quite short, but there are other “epic” Chinese poems that are REALLY long.

      1. Now I know why mostly of the poems I had searched earlier are only one stanza. I Thought it’s more like 4 – 6 stanzas 🙂
        Thanks a lot for the information Mr. Shawn, such a great help 🙂

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