Gil Lehmann, Jacey Chang, and Yehudith Dashevsky on translating Su Shi

Gil Lehmann, Jacey Chang, and Yehudith Dashevsky


on translating Su Shi


The original poem, an example of chain verses (连环诗) in ancient Chinese, is only fourteen characters long. This form of verse (七言绝句) is often twenty-eight characters long, with each line having seven characters. In this chain verse, the last three or four characters of each line are repeated in the next line, so the resulting poem requires only fourteen distinct characters. One fascinating feature of this poem is that in each line, the repeated characters often change parts of speech, slightly altering the meaning. For example, in the line “the impact of the wine is fading,” the original word for “fading” means “becoming slight” (), and in the next line, this word becomes an adverb (here translated as "slightly”) that modifies the verb “waking” (), which we’ve translated in this context as “clearing.” For the shape, we couldn’t get it to form a diamond as in the original due to the wordiness of English, so we formed it into an ancient Chinese wine goblet (, gu), hoping to convey some of the meaning of the poem through the form.

about the author

The author is alleged to be 苏轼, Su Shi, but this remains unconfirmed.

about the translator

Gil Lehmann and Jacey Chang are both Masters of City Planning students in the Weitzman School of Design. Yehudith Dashevsky is a former DoubleSpeak editor who currently works in Washington, DC.

photo by Zhiqiao (Kate) Jiang