A small black covered boat
In a thin autumn-morning fog
Is about to sail beneath an ancient arched bridge.

It’s a mysterious opening.
Who knows what will be revealed
Through the passage under the stone arch?

A broad turbulent river
Or an unadorned quiet town?
A pretty but bleak plain?

We’ve seen tallow trees: red berries,
White reeds,
Emerald kingfishers.
Thank Heaven, our voyage
Proceeds on course.

But while we’re smiling,
In the thin autumn-morning fog
A new arch emerges, mystery
Another dread
Clutches at our chest

                                   Shi Zhecun
                                   tr. Zuxin Ding


1997 Shi Zhecun. Trans. Zuxin Ding


A Note about This Poem and Its Maker


A note on Shi Zhecun (1905- ) from THE COLUMBIA ANTHOLOGY OF MODERN CHINESE LITERATURE says: “Shi Zhicun’s fictional work departs in large measure from the main current of modern Chinese fiction in that his material has little to do with the harsh realities of his time. He is not a typical writer who, in the famous phrase of C.T. Hsia, is ‘obsessed with China.’ In ‘One Evening in the Rainy Season’ he is obsessed, to be sure, but with the nervous manifestations of the individual psyche suffering from repressed sexuality or thwarted desire. For this he is often identified as a ‘decadent’ writer. He studied French literature in college and edited the monthly Les Contemporains. He gave up creative writing for a university career after 1937.”

Dr. Zuxin Ding, his translator, writes of “The Arched Bridge”: “According to Mr. Shi, “The Arched Bridge” was written in 1936 and was published in Xiandai Zashi (Journal of Modernism). Mr. Shi is one of the earliest Modernists in China.”

About “The Arched Bridge” the poet himself wrote: “My stories and poems were written in the years from 1928 to 1938. Written almost sixty years ago, they were outmoded. My poetry was much influenced by Imagism, which was fashionable at the time.”

“‘The Arched Bridge’ was written in 1936. I wrote it after I had had been rowing on the West Brook, which is three miles long, nestling behind the hills of the West Lake.” (personal letters to his translator)

About spelling and order-of-name: Dr. Ding suggests that the COLUMBIA ANTHOLOGY “apparently uses the mainland China system” of spelling. In English, he himself prefers that his own name appear in the western order.


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