Written for My Grandnephew at the Blue Pass by Han Yu 左迁至蓝关示侄孙湘 (韩愈)

At dawn to Royal Court a proposal was made;

At dusk I’m banished eight thousand Ii away.

To undo the misdeeds I would have given aid.

Dare I have spared myself with powers in decay?

The Ridge veiled in barred clouds, my home cannot be seen;

The Blue Pass clad in snow, my horse won’t forward go.

You have come from afar and I know what you mean:

To bury my bones where the misty waters flow.

一封朝奏。九重天田,

夕贬潮州路八千。

欲为圣朚除弊事,

肯将衰朽惜残年。

云横秦岭家何在,

雪拥蓝关马不前。

知汝远来应有意,

好收吾骨瘴江边。

This is one of the representative poetical works by Han Yu. It reflects not only his thoughts and the way he conducted himself, but also the feature of his poems, that is, applying the way of writing essays to the composition of poems.

The first two lines give us the reason why he was degraded and the place where he would go after demotion. Han Yu didn’t believe in Buddhism and opposed the emperor’s going in for Buddhist services in a big way with a vast amount of money and time. Regardless of the opposition of the emperor and many ministers, he risked his life admonishing against greeting sacred bone relic of Buddha in the imperial palace and making offerings. He had a narrow escape from a fatal disaster and his capital offence was commuted to demotion on the vigorous bail of Pei Du and other good friends of his. Han Yu bore the blame for his loyalty, so he sighed great sorrow in his heart. In the poem strong contrasts are shown between the short intervals of morning and night, the most reverend empyrean and the remotest 8,000 li road, and the active spirit of presenting a memorial to the emperor and the helplessness after demotion. This enables us to experience the sense of “being close to emperor is like being close to a tiger” and have strong sympathy for Han Yu for his loyalty and bear hatred to the emperor’s ignorance and pedantry.

The next two lines utter the poet’s aspirations and show his courage to give his life to the cause of abolishing what was harmful despite his old age.

With the description of scenery, the third two lines express the poet’s feelings of boundless sadness in adverse circumstances. They have become much quoted lines for the beautiful scenery description, careful antithesis and deep feelings. “Clouds lay across the Qinling Mountains” indicates that the poet was looking back and felt reluctant to leave his home; “the snow blocks the Blue Pass” means looking forward and worrying about the bleak future. The two lines describe the difficult journey, symbolizing his official career fraught with difficulties and danger. Feeling and setting were happily blended in the poem just like a sad but beautiful picture, which is saturated with sadness of a hero in dire straits.

The last two lines tell the result of the matter. They not only clearly voice his entrustment on his grandnephew, but also imply his firm belief in serving his country with unreserved loyalty and his bravery in facing death unflinchingly.

The whole poem is permeated with grief and sorrow, but it reveals, between the lines, that the poet had the noble qualities of standing in no fear of power and stating his views outright. The poem is like talking, commenting and enjoining. It is both a poem and an essay and it differs from pure poetry in that it has a unique style and is a forerunner of “writing poems in the same way as writing essays,” which made a strong impact on the poetry of the Song Dynasty.

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