Soon after his suicide in 1989 at the age of 25, Hai Zi’s poems about nature, loneliness, and the fleeting nature of yearning and happiness began inspiring a generation of steadfast, fiercely idealistic young Chinese who sought romance, guidance and hope. One of his final poems, “Facing the Sea, with Spring Blossom,” might be his most memorable, but my personal favorite will always be “September,” in no small part because it was turned into a song by the same name.
September is a pastoral set in a distant, nigh indescribable, divine place in which life and death are constantly interacting. The speaker is alone in the strictest sense, but he doesn’t seem to mind – he plays music, leads horses, takes walks. You don’t need to know Chinese to feel the poem in this song: a sense that far isn’t far enough, that layered dimensions of pain and longing call to us, and that the distant horizon can only be death – which means the grassland on which we stand, playing music and performing everyday tasks, is life in the truest, grandest sense.
The music is by Zhang Huisheng, and it was first performed by Zhou Yunpeng, whose story deserves its own post sometime down the line. (He lost his eyesight at the age of nine, later learned to play the guitar and write poetry, and won a People’s Literature Award for song lyrics in 2011.) Until then, go give September a listen. I’ve got it on repeat as we speak.
The wildflowers covering this land have witnessed the fall of gods,
Beyond is a far away wind that is far and farther still,
My qin wails, there are no more tears,
I return the Beyond back to this grassland.
This is called wood, and this one horsehair; my qin wails,
There are no more tears.
This Beyond exists only in death, congealed, a pool of wildflowers.
The mirrored moon hangs above this grassland for a millennia still.
My qin wails, there are no more tears.
Alone, spurring across this land of grass.
Original Youku link.
Yin (音, “music”) is a weekly Radii feature that looks at Chinese songs spanning classical to folk to modern experimental, and everything in between. Drop us a line if you have a suggestion: email@example.com.