Posted by: W. E. Poplaski | September 1, 2009

POEM OF THE DAY: Pride and Humility

by Chang Kiu-ling (618 – 905).

Pride and Humility1

I’m but a sea-bird, wandering here alone,
And dare not call the ponds and lakes my own;
But what are those two lovely birds on high,
Shining resplendent ‘gainst the morning sky?

Upon the top bough of the San-Chu2 tree,                                   5
Persumptuously they build that all may see;
Their feathers than the iris lovelier far,
What if a missile their beauty mar!
Such brilliant robes, which they with joy expose,
Might well excite the envy of their fores;                                   10
And even the gods may view with dire disdain
The high ambition of the proud and vain.

Now I in quiet obscurity can roam
Far from my nest, flecked by the ocean’s foam;
Yet, in a world where greed is always rife,                                  15
No one would raise a hand to take my life.

 (Transl. by Charles Budd)

1 This translation is only a portion of a long poem.
2 A mythical tree of the genii; but in the poem it may mean a very conspicuous tree.


“Chang Kiu-ling (Tze Sheo) was the son of an official in the Tang Dynasty.  At a very early age he displayed great ability, and while still comparatively young, took a high literary degree (Tsin-tze), and then held high office under the Emperor Hsiien-Tsung, with whom he sometimes ventured to remonstrate for his licentious life. Once when all the courtiers presented valuable gifts to the Emperor on his birthday, Chang Kiu-ling presented him with a book written by himself and styled ‘The Thousand Year Mirror’, showing the causes of success and failure in former dynasties. His advice, however, was not seriously heeded at the time, but after his death his faithfulness was appreciated and he was ennobled and afterwards canonized by the Emperor.  It is recorded by one writer that Chang Kiu-ling, when a youth, trained pigeons to carry letters to his friends.”
(from Chinese Poetry by Charles Budd, 1912, p 28.)

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