Poems by Bei Dao

Bei Dao (1949-), meaning "Northern Island" literally, is the pseudonym of Chinese modern poet Zhao Zhenkai, who became in the 1970s the poetic voice of his generation. Bei Dao gained first international acclaim with the poem 'Answer,' which was published in the official poetry journal Shi Kan (Poetry Monthly) in 1980. 'I don't believe the sky is blue; / I don't believe in thunder's echoes; / I don't believe that dreams are false; / I don't believe that death has no revenge." (from 'The Answer') Bei Dao's tone was defiant and especially the last lines from 'Notes on the Coty of the Sun,' have been often quoted as representing the disillusionment of his generation.

Answers  An Unfamiliar Beach  Quiet and Tremble  An Ancient Temple  We  Outsider  June  Delivering Newspapers  Post  Untitled  Teacher’s Manual  Morning Song  Deformation  Spending the Night  The Hunt  Mission  Swivel Chair  Dry Season  Soap 


Cruelty is the ID pass of the cruel,
honesty the grave stone of the honest.
Look, in the sky plated gold,
crooked reflections of all the dead float around.

The glacial epoch is over,
so why is there ice everywhere?
Good Hope was rounded a long time ago,
so where are these thousands of boats racing on the Dead Sea?

I came into this world
with only blank pages, rope and my fingers;
therefore, before final judgements are given,
I need to speak in all the voices of the defendants.

Just let me say, world,
If a thousand challengers are under your feet
count me as challenger one-thousand-and-one.

I don't believe the sky is always blue;
I don't believe it was thunder echoing;
I don't believe all dreaming is false;
I don't believe the dead cannot bring judgement.

If the sea is doomed someday to break its levees
my heart must flood with all the bitter waters.
If the land is destined to form the hills again,
let real human beings learn to choose the higher ground.

The latest, favorable turnings, the twinkling stars
studding the naked sky,
are pictographs five-thousand years old.
They are the eyes of the future staring at us now.

An Unfamiliar Beach

--to P.

The sails have been lowered.

A winter forest of masts
contains unexpected sights and sounds of Spring.

The ruins of a lighthouse
still hold the great beams from the past.

You lean on the remaining stairs,
on the rusted banisters,
beating the same rhythm over and over.

In the dignity of high noon
our shadows look for temporary lodging.

All over the place
salt rock glistens, condensed and
sparkling with memories.

In the distance
there is a vast, white expanse.

The blue horizon
is like a moving deck.
How many nets have been cast?

A scarf,
like a red bird,
waves over the Sea of Japan.
It flings its imitation of fire
at this grey end of the world,
and at your fixed gaze.
An absence of storms is fine,
but there is also no direction and no wind.
Perhaps in answer to a call,
its wings thrum like a bowstring.

The ebbing tide
wave after wave,
spills on a golden carpet,
spills a night suffused with foam,
a lost rope, a broken oar.

Fishermen bend their naked backs
and repair the temple the storm collapsed.

Children chase a crescent moon.

A sea gull flies right for you,
but doesnt light on your outstretched hand.

Quiet and Tremble

Translated by the author with the assistance of Chen Yan Bing and Diana Jaio

you are drawing yourself
being born--light's rising
turning the paper-night

madness that you released
is quiet cast by truth
pride shines as if internal wounds
darken all the words

in secret trembling
those angels in uniforms
of a private school
become fish, querying sea

a wind reads ruts
saluting the blue silk beyond

An Ancient Temple

The long ago songs of a bell
weaved this spider web; in the column's crevices,
grown outward, one sees annual rings there for the counting.
No memories are here; stones
that merely scattered the echoes in this mountain valley,
have no memories.
That little path, even, by-passed it;
its dragons and strange birds are gone.
They took with them the silent bells that hung from the eaves.
They took the unrecorded legends of the place, too.
The words on the walls are all worn clean and torn.
Maybe if it caught on fire
one could read the words on the inside.
See the annual growths of the wild grasses,
so indifferent.
They don't care if they submit to any master,
to the shoes of the old monks,
or to the winds, either.
Out front the sky is held up by a broken stone tablet.
Still, led by the gaze of some living person,
the tortoise may revive and
come out carrying his heavy secret,
crawl right out there on the temple's threshold.


lost souls and scattered spirits
holdings lanterns chase spring

scars shimmer, cups revolve
light's being created
look at that enchanting moment
a thief steals into a post office
letters cry out

nails o nails
the lyrics never change
firewood huddles together
searching for an audience to listen
searching for the heart of winter
river's end
a boatman awaiting boundless twilight

there must be some one to rewrite love


one generation drops like a curtain
the next is applauding

the lifetime you've known
hiding in dark places
starts gaining attention
groping, hence light
letting half a life empty out
and fill with crane song

someone's swimming in sickness
as autumn wind inspects
the small temperaments of young animals
the road joins sleep
and in radiant light that's defeated you
you stand fast at the nameless fence

translated by David Hinton


Wind at the ear says June
June a blacklist I slipped
in time

note this way to say goodbye
the sighs within these words

note these annotations:
unending plastic flowers
on the dead left bank
the cement square extending
from writing to

I run from writing
as dawn is hammered out
a flag covers the sea

and loudspeakers loyal to the sea’s
deep bass say June

Delivering Newspapers

Who believes in the mask’s weeping?
who believes in the weeping nation?
the nation has lost its memory
memory goes as far as this morning

the newspaper boy sets out in the morning
all over town the sound of a desolate trumpet
is it your bad omen or mine?
vegetables with fragile nerves
peasants plant their hands in the ground
longing for the gold of a good harvest
politicians sprinkle pepper
on their own tongues
and a stand of birches in the midst of a debate:
whether to sacrifice themselves for art or doors

this public morning
created by a paperboy
revolution sweeps past the corner
he’s fast asleep


An elk heading for the pit-trap
power, the fir tree said, struggle

cherishing the same secret
my hair turned white
retiring, going backwards
leaving my post

only one step back
no, ten whole years
my era behind me
suddenly beating on a bass drum


The landscape crossed out with a pen
reappears here

what I am pointing to is not rhetoric
October over the rhetoric
flight seen everywhere
the scout in the black uniform
gets up, takes hold of the world
and microfilms it into a scream

wealth turns into floodwaters
a flash of light expands
into frozen experience
and just as I seem to be a false witness
sitting in the middle of a field
the snow troops remove their disguises
and turn into language

Teacher’s Manual

A school still in session
irritable restless but exercising restraint
I sleep beside it
my breath just reaching the next
lesson in the textbook: how to fly

when the arrogance of strangers
sends down March snow
a tree takes root in the sky
a pen to paper breaks the siege
the river declines the bridge invites

the moon takes the bait
turning the familiar corner
of the stairs, pollen and viruses
damage my lungs damage
an alarm clock

to be let out of school is a revolution
kids jump over the railings of light
and turn to the underground
other parents and I
watch the stars rise

Morning Song

Words are the poison in a song

on the track of the song’s night road
police sirens  aftertaste
the alcohol of sleepwalkers

waking up, a headache
like the window’s transparent speakers
from silence to a roar

learning to waste a life
I hover in the birdcalls
crying never

when the storms have filled up with gas
light rays snatch the letter
unfold it and tear it up


My back to the window of open fields
holding on to the gravity of life
and the doubts of May
like the audience at a violent movie
lit by drink

except for the honey-drop at five o’clock
the morning’s lovers grow old
and become a single body
a compass needle
on a homesick sea

between writing and the table
a diagonal enemy line
Friday in the billowing smoke
someone climbs a ladder
out of sight of the audience

Spending the Night

A river brings a trout to the plate
brother alcohol and father sorghum
ask me to spend the night, the glass
has the wrinkles of a murderer

the hotel clerk stares at me
I hear his arrhythmic heart
that heart now bright now dim
lighting the registration form

on the glossy marble
the piano goes out of tune
the elevator turns a yawn into a scream
as it cuts through lamplit foam

coming out of its sleeve
the wind bares an iron fist

The Hunt

The teacher faded long ago
yet the fragments of her diary
act as a go-between
following the corridors of continual evolution
the whole team chases the rabbit
who will skin it?

the back door leads to summer
the eraser can never erase
the dotted lines turning into sunlight
the rabbit’s soul flies low
looking for its next incarnation

this is a story, many years ago
someone’s ears pricked up

stole a glimpse of the sky
and we the wolves suckling on a red lamp
have already grown up


The priest gets lost in prayer
an air shaft
leads to another era:
escapees climb over the wall

panting words evoke
the author’s heart trouble
breathe deep, deeper
grab the locust tree roots
that debate the north wind

summer has arrived
the treetop is an informer
murmurs are a reddish sleep
stung by a swarm of bees
no,  a storm

Swivel Chair

I walk out of a room
like a shadow from a music box
the rump of the sun sways
stopping dead at noon

empty empty swivel chair
in the funnel of writing
someone filters through the white paper:
wrinkled face
sinister words

in regard to enduring freedom
in regard to can I have a light

the heart, as if illuminating
even more of the blind
shuttles between day and night

Dry Season

First it’s the wind from home
the father like a bird flying
over a river of drowsy haze
suddenly changes course
but you’re already sunk in the fog

supposing memory wakes
like the night sky in an observatory
you clip your fingernails
close the door open the door
friends are hard to recognize

until letters from the old days
completely lose their shadows
at sunset you listen closely
to a new city
built by a string quartet


In the kitchen washing my hands
soapy water runs down the drain
like a French horn’s

the bride waves goodbye
to the canal of keeping dates
who is the white-haired witness
going upstream?

a group photo with the sun
half my face covered
the other half daylight
in the windless solitude

in the rivers and lakes fish forget one another
the night creates a momentary god
bats in the eyes of drug addicts
destroy themselves in passion

中国诗歌库 中华诗库 中国诗典 中国诗人 中国诗坛 首页