‘To Love the Lotus’, translated by Katrina Fong

Of all the flowers of land and sea, many deserve to be adored. Tao Yuan Ming of the Jin dynasty only
had eyes for chrysanthemums, and since the Li clan ruled the Tang dynasty, people have loved the
peonies. But I will only love the lotus flower that emerges from the mud unsullied, and passes
through clean water with dignity. Its hollow stem is pin-straight, and it does not crawl like vines nor
grow unsightly branches, and the farther its sweet scent spreads, the fresher its aroma becomes.
Clean and regal, it stands tall in the water. It is to be admired from afar, and never up close.

I think chrysanthemums are the quiet, wise recluses among flowers; Peonies are the extravagant
nobles; And Lotuses are the virtuous, dignified junzi. Alas! After Tao Yuan Ming’s time, love for his
beloved chrysanthemums has dwindled to nothing. And as for the adoration of the lotus, how could
there be anyone other than me! But for the peony, those who love it are many!

 

It was an intentional choice to not translate 君子 in my translation. I feel that this phrase is one of those phrases that have no equivalent in English! In the simplest way, a junzi is a respectable, virtuous individual, but there are much heavier implications that come with it! It implies wide knowledge, wisdom, dignity, and is one of the highest compliments you could pay anyone in ancient Chinese society! The poem is written in what I interpret to be the ancient Chinese equivalent of free verse, so it posed a challenge to keep a lot of the original structure. It is also written in ancient literary Chinese (文言文), so one Chinese character could mean a whole phrase in English. I tried to keep to the original rhythm by using mostly same punctuation and pauses, to preserve the original feeling. It was difficult to translate the section “予獨愛蓮之出淤泥而不染,濯清漣而不妖,中通外直,不蔓不枝,香遠益清,亭亭淨 植,可遠觀而不可褻玩焉。”, as it has many phrases that have no direct equivalent in English, so I had to take some creative liberties with it. Lastly, it was the most difficult to translate the title, as it directly translates to Love Lotus Say, which both makes no sense and is grammatically absurd. I took some creative liberties and translated the title according to how the poem comes off as – which is a short musing and tribute to the beauty and virtue of lotus flowers. I tried to preserve the elegant flow and language of the original by using slightly archaic English as opposed to a more modern/casual approach.

愛蓮說
水陸草木之花,可愛者甚蕃。 晉陶淵明獨愛菊。 自李唐來,世人甚愛牡丹。 予獨愛蓮之出淤泥而
不染,濯清漣而不妖,中通外直,不蔓不枝,香遠益清,亭亭淨植,可遠觀而不可褻玩焉。

予謂菊,花之隱逸者也;牡丹,花之富貴者也;蓮,花之君子者也。 噫! 菊之愛,陶後鮮有聞。 蓮
之愛,同予者何人? 牡丹之愛,宜乎眾矣。

 

Original poem by Zhou Dunyi.