The Osprey

子曰:「關睢,樂而不淫,哀而不傷。」
Confucius said: “The first poem in the Book of Songs is delightful without being lewd and sad without being a lament.”

The first poem in the Book of Songs is commonly known in English as “The Osprey” or “The Ospreys” as this was the term adopted in the original translation by James Legge – though the bird in question might very well be a type of duck or water fowl.

Not that it really matters, for as Confucius points out, this is a delightful poem that evokes the joys and sorrows of young love. Here is a translation of it from John Thompson:

關關雎鳩,在河之州。
“Guan, guan,” trill the ospreys, upon the island in the creek.
窈窕淑女,君子好逑。
Modest is the gentle lady, the gentleman thinks her fine to seek.
參差荇菜,左右流之。
Uneven are the floating water plants, they flow by left and right.
窈窕淑女,寤寐求之。
Modest is the gentle beauty, he seeks her day and night.
求之不得,寤寐思服。
He seeks but cannot get her, he thinks of her day and night.
悠哉悠哉,輾轉反側。
Sad and anxious thoughts, twisting and turning in his plight.
參差荇菜,左右採之。
Uneven are the floating water plants, they can be picked left and right.
窈窕淑女,琴瑟友之。
Modest is the gentle beauty, qin and se zithers her friendship invite.
參差荇菜,左右芼之。
Uneven are the floating water plants, they can be gathered left and right.
窈窕淑女,鐘鼓樂之。
Modest is the gentle beauty, with bells and drums we bring her delight.

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