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John Drew Poet

"Western romanticism meets Chinese romanticism"

On Leaving Cambridge By Xu Zhi Mo

Softly I am leaving,

Just as softly as I came;

I softly wave goodbye

To the clouds in the western sky.

The golden willows by the riverside

Are young brides in the setting sun;

Their glittering reflections on the shimmering river

Keep undulating in my heart.

The green tape grass rooted in the soft mud

Sways leisurely in the water;

I am willing to be such a waterweed

In the gentle flow of the River Cam.

That pool in the shade of elm trees

Holds not clear spring water, but a rainbow

Crumpled in the midst of duckweeds,

Where rainbow-like dreams settle.

To seek a dream? Go punting with a long pole,

Upstream to where green grass is greener,

With the punt laden with starlight,

And sing out loud in its radiance.

Yet now I cannot sing out loud,

Peace is my farewell music;

Even crickets are now silent for me,

For Cambridge this evening is silent.

Quietly I am leaving,

Just as quietly as I came;

Gently waving my sleeve,

I am not taking away a single cloud.

(6 November 1928)

Xu Zhi Mo, one of China’s foremost poets of the twentieth century, is widely known for his poem (On Leaving Cambridge) composed in 1928 when he was studying in Cambridge as a visiting scholar. His poem was so influential amongst Chinese people that many tourists now visit Cambridge, not just for the prestige and beauty of Cambridge University but also to see the stone on which the poem can be found along the bank of the river Cam behind Kings College where Xu Zhi Mo studied.

The Chinese language is complex yet beautiful with poetry as a crucial means through which Chinese philosophy and the ways of life are shaped. Idioms used in everyday conversations as well as the practice of recitation of poetry results in the teaching of morals from a very young age. Similar to the traditional awareness in the West of Aesop’s fables, Chinese children are expected to recite poetry starting from primary school all throughout their education in order to be able to understand their role in society as well as appreciating traditional language.

Xu Zhi Mo took inspiration from the traditional Chinese poetry and combined it with Western literary influences in writing ‘On Leaving Cambridge’ breaking from traditional Chinese poetic structure whilst still describing the beautiful landscape of Cambridge at the heart of his poem. Despite the many differences between China and the West culturally and traditionally, Xu Zhi Mo’s poem ‘On Leaving Cambridge’ captured the beauty of Cambridge in a Chinese style and inspired an image of English nature which had not been previously experienced in China.

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