At moonset cry the crows, streaking the frosty sky;
Dimly-lit fishing boats ‘neath maples sadly lie.
Beyond the city walls, from Temple of Cold Hill
Bells break the ship-borne roamer’s dream and midnight still.
This is one of the most famous poems by Zhang Ji among his extant 40-odd 1 poems. It was composed in the Tang Dynasty and was engraved on a stone tablet early in the Northern Song Dynasty. The unknown Temple of Cold Hill outside the Gusu City has become world-famous due to the popularity of this poem. People of later generations have explored and argued about whether the Temple of Cold Hill struck bells at midnight and whether the bell rings could be heard around the Maple Bridge. All these show the far-reaching influence of this poem.
Actually the poem is clear, simple, easy to understand and not overwrought. The reason why it’s so famous is that it flawlessly mixes many things in a very small space such as the moon, the bird, the trees, the boat, the autumn frost and the fishing lights. And with the temple in the hill that can’t be seen and the bell, rings that can be heard, it forms a moving scene of a mooring guest boat at autumn night, which is like a delicate watercolor picture depicting the South in picturesque disorder. Look up at the sky, and we can see the autumn frost is vast and the moon is setting. Look down at the surface of the river, and we can see the wave light is clear and the fishing lights are shining. The maples by the river, whose frosty leaves are red, are trembling in the autumn wind, against the fishing lights across the river. The berthing guest boat is still, while the guests in it are homesick and feel melancholy. In the deep night, the indistinct temple is invisible but the continuous bell rings can be heard reverberating in the sky. The scene combines harmoniously the sky and the river, the trees and the boat, people and things, motion and stillness and sound and soundlessness. Nevertheless the enchanting scenery can’t dispel the boundless homesickness from his heart. It is the homesickness that makes him have a sleepless night, see the beautiful landscape at midnight and hear the light bell rings. In other words, the continuous bell rings make the midnight appear more silent and add homesickness. It is the bell rings that bring the poem to life and make it profound and meaningful.