The fisherman

Qu Yuan, recently exiled, wandered the rivers and lakes, walking and singing by the shores of ponds. His countenance was sallow, his posture haggard. A fisherman saw him and asked, “Are you not the Lord of the Three Villages? Why have you arrived here?”

Qu Yuan said, “The whole world is turbid, only I am clear; everyone is drunk, only I am sober. Thus I faced exile.”

The fisherman said, “The great man does not dwell on material things; he can move with the world. If the world is turbid, why not stir its mud and raise its waves? If everyone is drunk, why not eat the dregs and drink the wine? Why ponder deeply and live aloof, and let yourself be exiled?”

Qu Yuan said, “I have heard that those who have newly washed their hair must flick their hats of dust; those who have newly bathed must shake their clothes of grime. How can I bring the cleanliness of my body to meet the murkiness of things? I’d rather swim in the flow of the Xiang and be buried in the stomachs of fish. How can I bring my glistening white to meet the dust of the world?

The fisherman smiled, hit the oars, and left, singing: “If the waters of the Canglang are clear, I can wash my capstrings; if the waters of the Canglang are turbid, I can wash my feet.” Thus he left, and did not speak again.



漁父曰:「聖人不凝滯於物,而能與世推移。 世人皆濁,何不淈其泥而揚其波?衆人皆醉,何不餔其糟而歠其釃?何故深思高擧,自令放爲?」


漁父莞爾而笑,鼓枻而去,乃歌曰: 「滄浪之水淸兮,可以濯吾纓, 滄浪之水濁兮,可以濯吾足。」 遂去,不復與言。

My translation of Yufu 漁父, “The fisherman”, a narrative poem from the Songs of Chu, which was first anthologized in the second century. Shortly after the events described here, Qu Yuan drowns himself in the Miluo River.

November 2019