On the Tower at Youzhou by Chen Zi’ang 登幽州合歌 (陈子昂)

Where are the great men of the past?

O where are those of future years?

The sky and earth forever last.

Here and now, I alone shed tears.

前不见古人,

后不见来者。

念天地之悠悠田,

独怆然田而涕下田。

The poem was written in 697. Frustrated in his military career under the reign of Empress Wu Zetian, the poet climbed to the top of Youzhou Tower and looked  far into the distance. Seeing the boundlessness of the sky and the earth as well as the smallness of himself, he sighed with emotion. The poem conveyed the poet’s pessimism about his unrecognized talents and yet contained a strong desire to make contributions to his motherland and realize his great ambition. It transcended the limits of time and space and showed profound and far-reaching significance, as we can see from the first two lines, which reveal a sense of uniqueness and are often used to describe original thoughts and things. The last two lines show us that the poet, facing the sky and the earth, realized man’s insignificance in nature and lamented over his helplessness about man’s destiny. With sincere feelings harmoniously blended with the setting, the poet created a moving sad scene. He was indignant but not down-hearted; his language was plain but conveyed profound meanings. The poem has been cherished for over a thousand years by numerous people.

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