Xu Zhimo

By REN ZHIYU / 12-22-2023 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

FILE PHOTO: A collection of prose by Xu Zhimo

Xu Zhimo, the esteemed Chinese poet, inhabited the early 20th century, a time of profound transformation in China, marked by tumultuous political upheavals and fervent cultural exchange with the West. Immersed in the literary traditions of the United States and Britain during his studies abroad, Xu’s poetry bore the unmistakable imprint of romanticism. He was also known for his efforts to set Chinese poetry free from the constraints of its traditional forms, infusing it with the spirit of Western verse and the rhythms of the vernacular Chinese language. 

After returning to China, Xu emerged as a pioneer of modern Chinese poetry. In 1923, he founded the Crescent Moon Society, a Chinese literary society that espoused the principles of “art for art’s sake,” leaving an indelible mark on modern Chinese literature. Unfortunately, the Society disbanded following Xu’s tragic demise in a plane crash in 1931. 

Xu’s most renowned poem among the public is “Taking Leave of Cambridge Again,” a poignant composition inspired by his return to the University of Cambridge, where he had received his education.

“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.” (trans. Guohua Chen).