Xu Zhi Mo Poem "On Leaving Cambridge"


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.


Do please download the pdf or full powerpoint presentation illustrating this subject which you will find  useful to use for a class:

China, a country rich in culture, creativity and history has come to the foreground of the world stage in the 21st century with its huge economic growth and its immense role in globalisation. With the largest population of 1.3billion people and growing, as well as a landmass roughly 44 times bigger than the UK, China has become very influential in international affairs and our individual daily lives from the things we buy to the things we eat. Chinese culture, especially its cuisine is rapidly infiltrating the West as students, families and pandas immigrate Westward - even to Scotland! 
This subject provides a sweeping insight into the characteristics of China’s landscapes, its people and its language. China’s geography is a vital factor contributing to its arts and culture as many of China’s historical art, poetry and music was inspired by the beauty of nature. Although, the more common landscape is now one of skyscrapers and traffic jams, the rural scenery which made up most China before the 20th century was what influenced the arts and philosophy much of which is extracted from lessons learnt through observing nature.
China’s history spans back across thousands of years being one of the first civilisations to develop with its first Emperor of the united China established in 220BC, the Emperor Qin. The dynastic traditions as well as the more well known ‘Confucianism’ has been vital in China’s development of culture and the way in which Chinese people choose to lead their lives today. Many values and principles which the Chinese hold such as discipline and hard work translates in their parenting and teaching styles which has been sensationalised in the West as ‘Tiger Mother-ism’.
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.

To seek a dream is the title of the piece commissioned by Historyworks based on the poem by Xu Zhimo - see:  

For Xu Zhimo poetry translation, see below:

Composed in 1928, a famous poem about Cambridge internationally, was written by Xu Zhimo, one of China's foremost poets, habitually learnt by Chinese schoolchildren.  This poem translates variously as "On Leaving Cambridge", "Saying Goodbye to Cambridge, again"  & here we are taking the title "Taking Leave of Cambridge Again".  This translation is taken from Peter Pagnamenta (ed.) "The University of Cambridge: an 800th Anniversary Portrait", (London: Third Millenium Publishing, 2008), page 29:

Taking Leave of Cambridge Again

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)


Discover More


Stone with Xu Zhimo Poem- by King’s Bridge in King’s College http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/visit/index.html


Xu Zhi Mo Poem "On Leaving Cambridge"


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