Shen Deqian – A Recitation on Snow

Hangzhou Winter

Shen Deqian (沈德潛, 심덕잠, Shim Deokjam, 1673-1769) was a Qing Dynasty poet and literati bureaucrat. He was born in Jiangsu Province (江蘇省, 강소성, Gangso Seong); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Queshi (確士, 확사, Hwaksa); and his pen name (號, 호) was Guiyu (歸愚, 귀우, Gwi’u). Shen Deqian was an accomplished poet and a proponent of the “Style Theory” (格調說, 격조설, Gyeokjoseol) school of poetry, which advocated for the emulation of Tang Dynasty style poetry.

The poem below was written when Emperor Qianlong (乾隆帝, 건륭제, Geonryungje, 1711-1799, r. 1735-1796), the sixth emperor of the Qing Dynasty (淸, 청, Cheong, 1644-1912), was in Hangzhou (杭州, 항주, Hangju) on the day of the Major Cold (大寒, 대한, Daehan), which occurs around January 20th on the Gregorian Calendar every year as a solar term. Accompanying him on the trip was Shen Deqian and several others. Although of Manchu birth, the Emperor was an admirer of Chinese culture, and also attempted to compose Classical Chinese poetry himself as he did on that day:

詠雪 영설

A Recitation on Snow

一片一片又一片 일편일편우일편

One snowflake, another snowflake, and again another snowflake.

One • piece • one • piece • again • one • piece
하나 • 눈송이 • 하나 • 눈송이 • 또 • 하나 • 눈송이

After reciting the first line, his entourage praised him. The Emperor then composed the next line.

三片四片五六片 삼편사편오륙편

Three snow flakes, four snowflakes, and five and six snowflakes.

Three • pieces • four • pieces • five • six • pieces
셋• 눈송이 • 넷• 눈송이 • 다섯 • 여섯 • 눈송이

This time, however, his entourage started wondering whether this was a poem at all: the Emperor was merely counting numbers. He then composed the following line.

七片八片九十片 칠편팔편구십편

Seven • pieces • eight • pieces • nine • ten • pieces
일곱• 눈송이 • 여덟• 눈송이 •  아홉 • 열 • 눈송이

Seven snowflakes and eight snowflakes, and nine and ten snow flakes.

After the third line, they became even more convinced. By this time, Emperor Qianlong was said to be confused as to how to complete the poem and gave a blank stare. After a long pause, Shen Deqian stepped forward and asked permission to finish the last line of the poem. He wrote:

飛入梅花都不見 비입매화도불결

The snowflakes fly and enter the the plum tree blossoms; and the blossoms cannot be seen at all!

To fly • to enter • plum tree • blossoms • all • not • to be seen
날다 • 들어가다 • 매화 • 꽃 • 모두 • 아니다 • 보이다

Notes:

  • 片(편) – Literally, “piece” (조각).

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