All of Mao's poems are all in the traditional Chinese verse style. Though Mao may not be one of the best Chinese poets, his poems are generally considered well-written and of high literary quality.
As did most Chinese intellectuals of his generation, Mao received rigorous education in Chinese classical literature, and thus his skill in poetry is of little surprise. His style was deeply influenced by the great Tang Dynasty poets Li Bai and Li He. He is considered to be a romantic poet, in contrast to the realist poets represented by Du Fu.
Many of Mao's poems are still very popular in China. They are frequently quoted in popular culture, literature and daily conversations. Some of his most well-known poems are "Changsha" (1925), "The Double Ninth" (1929.10), "Loushan Pass" (1935), "The Long March" (1935), "Snow" (1936.02), "The PLA Captures Nanjing" (1949.04), "Reply to Li Shuyi" (1957.05.11), and "Ode to the Plum Blossom" (1961.12). General consensus is that his pre-1949 works are superior.
Mao's poems are usually published as a list of twenty poems.
The yellow crane has long since gone away,
All that here remains is Yellow Crane Tower.
The yellow crane once gone does not return,
White clouds drift slowly for a thousand years.
Mao later discussed the historical context of this poem's writing: "At that time (1927), the Great Revolution failed, I was very depressed and didn't know what to do, so I wrote this poem".
Line 5: From Huangyanggai roars the thunder of cannon,
The warlords are clashing anew --
Yet another Millet Dream.
In 1929 Jiang Jieshi's KMT army began war with Feng Yuxiang and Yan Xishan's armies in north China. That's why Mao said "the warlords are clashing anew", and "Millet Dream" meant Jiang, Feng and Yan's ambitions were just dreams. And Mao thought he could take this opportunity to his advantage when most of KMT army went to fight elsewhere.
Huang Gonglyue was an important military leader of Red Army, he was killed a few years later in battle.
Line 10: Buzhou Mountain, a legendary mountain in Chinese forklore. It is said Buzhou Mountain was one of the four pillars supporting the sky. A giant called Gong Gong quarreled with the gods. He was very angry and banged his head against Buzhou Mountain. Buzhou Mountain was broken, thus the sky tilted and water poured from heaven, causing a huge flood on earth. Here Mao expressed his appreciation for Gong Gong's rebellious spirit.
I whip my quick horse and don't dismount
and look back in wonder.
''The sky is three feet away.
The sea collapses and the river boils.
Innumerable horses race
insanely into the peak of battle.
Peaks pierce the green sky, unblunted..
The sky would fall
but for the columns of mountains.
The last line: The three Armies march on, each face glowing.
Actually, the Long March was done by three CPC armies separately. One was Mao's 1st Red Army from Jiangxi Soviet, another was Zhang Guotao's 4th Red Army from Hubei soviet, the third one was He Long's 2nd Red Army from west part of Hubei. Here, Mao was glad all three Red Armies were together.
Mao wrote on this poem, commenting "An ancient poet said, 'Three million dragons of white jade are fighting, their broken scales fly all over the sky. In this way he dsecribed the flying snow, but here I have usd it to describe snowy mountains. In summer, when one climbs the Min Mountain, one looks out on far mountains that seem to dance and shine in dazzling whiteness. There was a saying among the people that years ago the Monkey King (Sun Hsing-che) passed by, all the mountains were on fire. But he borrowed a palm-leaf fan and quenched the flame and that is why the mountains froze and turned white."
Line 3: If we fail to reach the Great Wall we are not men,
This famous quote of Mao inspires millions of tourists visiting the Great Wall each year.
In the first half Mao praised the grandeur beauty of northern China in the winter. The more interesting part is the second half, where Mao listed some of the greatest Emperors in China, include Qin Shihuang, the first Emperor of China; Han Wudi, the great Han emperor who defeated Huns; Tang Taizong(Li Shimin), the second Emperor of Tang Dynasty; Emperor Taizu of Song, the Emperor who started Song Dynasty; and Genghis Khan. Here Mao hints he aspires to be even greater than these emperors.
Line 1: Over Zhong Mountain swept a storm, headlong,
Zhong Mountain is a hill at the suburb of Nanjing.
Line 2: Great River means Yangtze River
Line 3-4: The city, a tiger crouching, a dragon curling, outshining its ancient glory;
Nanjing, a great city, had been the capital of six dynasties in Chinese history. Strategiests said this city was like a "crouching tiger", and a "curling dragon".
Line 7: And not ape Xiang Yu the conqueror seeking idle fame.
Xiang Yu is the hero who led the uprising that toppled the Qin Dynasty. After winning the war against the Qin dynasty, Xiang Yu fought against Liu Bang for the control of China. Xiang Xu was defeated and killed. His tragic story was immortalized in the famous Beijing Opera Farewell My Concubine.
Line 5: "Yutian", a place in Xinjiang, here means far away places.
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