Qian Qianyi – A Reply to Sheng Jitao’s Leaf Poem

Qian Qianyi (錢謙益, 전겸익, 1582-1664) was literati bureaucrat and poet. He was born in Changshu (常熟, 상숙) in Jiangsu Province (江蘇省, 강소성); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Shouzhi (受之, 수지); and his pen names (號, 호) were Muzhai (牧齋, 목재) and Yuqiaosi (漁樵史, 어초사). (All romanizations of Mandarin were obtained via online converter.) He passed the civil examination (科擧, 과거) in 1610. Qian Qianyi sometime later took the famous courtesan Liu Rushi (柳如是, 유여시, 1618-1664) as his concubine. He eventually attained the position of the Minister of Rites (禮部尚書, 예부상서) for the Ming dynasty under Prince Fu (福王, 복왕, 1607-1646, r. 1644-1645), who attempted to regather Ming forces at Nanjing. After the city fell to the Manchus in 1645, Qian Qianyi surrendered and was given the post of the Deputy Minister of Rites (禮部侍郎, 예부시랑) by the Qing dynasty Emperor Shunzhi (順治, 순치, 1638-1661, r. 1644-1661). Five months later, however, he proffered an excuse that he was ill and returned to his home village. In 1648, Qian Qianyi was implicated in an anti-Qing rebellion plot and was incarcerated in Nanjing. He was released shortly after, but was put under watch. He wrote the following poem after his release with a group of companions, one whose name was Sheng Jitao (盛集陶, 성집도, ?-?). Qian Qianyi left behind other works as well, one of which was an anthology of Ming dynasty poems (列朝詩集, 열조시집) that contains poems by non-Chinese poets including early Chosun dynasty figures. He was well regarded for his own poetry, and is considered one of the Three Masters of Jingzou (江左三大家, 강좌삼대가). He was also part of a group of poets that advocated for the style of Song dynasty poets (宗宋派, 종송파), as opposed to Tang dynasty poets (宗唐派, 종당파). After his death, some of his writing came under scrutiny and were banned by Emperor Qianlong (乾隆, 건륭, 1711-1799, r. 1735-1796).

和盛集陶落葉詩 화성집도락엽시

A Reply to Sheng Jitao’s Leaf Poem

秋老鐘山萬木稀 추로종산만목희
凋傷總屬劫塵飛 조상총속겁진비
不知玉露涼風急 불지옥로량풍급
秖道金陵王氣非 지도금름왕기비
倚月素娥徒有樹 의월소아도유수
履霜青女正無衣 이상청녀정무의
華林慘淡如沙漠 화림참담여사막
萬里寒空一雁歸 만리한공일안귀

As autumn grows old, Mount Zhong’s (鐘山, 종산) ten thousand trees become sparser.
Withering and shriveling, all of them turn to dust and fly away.
I do not know whether it was because of the rustle of the frigid wind on the jade-like dew;
But they only say it was not the dynastic potent in Jinling (金陵, 금릉).
Leaning on the moon is Su’e (素娥, 수아), sitting idly with a tree;
Stepping upon the frost is the Blue Maiden (青女, 청녀), standing upright without clothing.
The splendorous forest is miserable and wretched like the desert.
For ten thousand li, it is cold and empty with only one wild goose returning home.


Autumn • to become old • bell • mountain • ten thousand • trees • to become few
To wither • to become injured • all • group • disorderly • dust • to fly
Not • to know • jade • dew • cold • wind • quick
Only • to say • gold • mound • king • aura • not
To lean • moon • white • beautiful woman • in vain • to have • tree
To step • frost • blue • woman • upright • to not have • clothes
Beautiful • forest • miserable • wretched • like • sand • desert
Ten thousand • li • cold • empty • one • wild goose • to return


  • Heptasyllabic regulated poem (七言律詩, 칠언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 微(미).
  • 盛集陶(성집도) – The courtesy name of Sheng Sidang (盛斯唐, 성사당, ?-?).
  • 鐘山(종산) – Refers to a mountain in Nanjing.
  • 劫塵(겁진) – Literally “disorderly dust.” Refers to the disturbances of war.
  • 金陵(금릉) – Old name for Nanjing (南京, 남경).
  • 王氣(왕기) – Literally “king’s energy” or “king’s vigor.” Refers to an omen indicating a dynastic shift.
  • 素娥(소아) – Refers to Chang’e (嫦娥, 상아), a goddess in Chinese mythology who lives on the moon. In the myth, she is accompanied by the jade rabbit (玉兎, 달토끼) and is often depicted next to a cinnamon tree.
  • 青女(청녀) – The Blue Maiden is a celestial goddess in Chinese mythology, responsible for frost and snow. Allusion to Huainanzi (淮南子, 회남자), Lesson on Celestial Patterns (天文訓, 천문훈):

至秋三月, 地氣不藏, 乃收其殺, 百蟲蟄伏, 靜居閉戶, 青女乃出, 以降霜雪
지추삼월, 지기불장, 내수기살, 백충집복, 정거폐호, 청녀내출, 이강상설

On the third month of autumn, the energy of the earth cannot be stored, but [the earth] gathers what it killed. All the insects hide and bury themselves, living quietly and closing off where they live. The Blue Maiden then comes out to drop frost and snow.

  1. Alice Cheang said:

    秖道金陵王氣非:非 here should, I believe, be taken as a full verb, “to be no more,” as in 物是人非 “objects remain but the person (who owned them) has departed.”

    Lines 3-4: “I didn’t realize that the white dew and chill winds of autumn were pressing so hard, / And only thought (said to myself) that the royal aura over Jinling was no more.” In other words, the poet thought that the bleakness he is feeling comes from the fact that he is in mourning for the perished dynasty, and only now realizes that the actual scene surrounding him is pretty desolate too. This is neat. We’ve seen a lot of poems in which the poet projects his internal state onto the external scene, but in this one Qian Qianyi is doing the opposite: it is always autumn in his heart, so it takes a bit of effort before he notices that it is autumn outside as well.

    履霜青女正無衣:正 here is not a full verb but a 虚字, and may be taken as “just now, right at this moment” (as in modern Chinese 正好、恰好). It is parallel to 徒 in the preceding line, “in vain, to no purpose.”

    This is how I read lines 5-6: “Leaning on the moon, Su E, in vain has a tree,” i.e., “To no avail does Chang E on the moon have a tree to lean against. / Stepping on the frost, the Blue Maid, is now unclad,” i.e., “At this moment unclad, the Blue Maid steps over the frost.”

    (I think the third couplet owes something to the dense and convoluted syntax of 杜甫’s 夔州 poetry and the regulated verse of 黃庭堅, to the extent that I have read these other poets:)

    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you for your great recommendations. I did not know 正 could be used as an adverb, or 虚字.

      Are you an academic or hobbyist in Classical Chinese studies?

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