Far and Near, Black Eyes, and Gu Cheng

Fishermen 漁夫

Photo by Melinda ^..^

Former AllSet Learning intern Parry recently shared this Chinese poem with me. It amazed me with its simplicity. This is a poem that even an elementary learner can get.

The poem [via Baidu Baike]:

> 远和近



Here it is in pinyin:

> Yuǎn hé Jìn

> Nǐ,
> yīhuī kàn wǒ,
> yīhuī kàn yún.
> Wǒ juéde,
> nǐ kàn wǒ shí hěn yuǎn,
> nǐ kàn yún shí hěn jìn.

——Gù Chéng

And in English translation [also via Baidu Baike]:

> Far and Near

> You,
> you look at me one moment
> and at clouds the next.
> I feel
> when you’re looking at me, you’re far away,
> but when you’re looking at the clouds, how could we be nearer!

> translated by Gordon T. Osing and De-An Wu Swihart.

The only potentially challenging aspects for a learner (armed with a dictionary tool) are:

1. Use of 一会 (also written as 一会儿), meaning “for a moment,” which is often pronounced “yíhuì” or “yíhuìer” (make sure that you know your tone change rules!)
2. Use of 时 (shí), a more formal equivalent of 的时候 (de shíhou)

I’m going to have to look into Gu Cheng more. He also has this great 2-line poem (taken from the Wikipedia article just linked to), which is basically at the intermediate level:

> 黑夜给了我黑色的眼睛
> 我却用它寻找光明


> Hēiyè gěi le wǒ hēisè de yǎnjing
> Wǒ què yòng tā xúnzhǎo guāngmíng

English translation:

> The dark night gave me black eyes,
> I use them nonetheless seeking for the light.

There are a few words in there that would definitely need to be looked up by an intermediate learner, but the only challenging grammatical point is the use of 却 (què).

It’s so great to have material like this accessible to learners.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I think “black eyes” is a poor translation, as for native English speakers it can give an impression of bruised eyes (“He gave me a black eye”). Perhaps “dark” is a better translation — it works in parallel with ‘dark night’. I have always found the use of “黑眼睛黑头发黄皮肤” as a self-characterization of Han / Chinese nationality, especially 黑眼睛, interesting.

    The entirety of Gu Cheng’s poem has been included in song lyrics. I immediately recognized it from the song 天下 by 春秋乐队 (Kaiser Kuo’s band). Apparently it is also used in 许嵩’s 布拉格小调.

  2. Also, today I learned that in mainland China / 普通话, 一会(儿) is pronounced yíhuì.

    In Taiwan / 國語 it is properly yi1hui3, with 会 being a 多音字 pronounced third tone in this situation.

    Nobody ever raises an eyebrow when I use it as hui3 in 普通话 contexts. In your experience, do any regional mainland pronunciations use third tone for 会儿? The delivery in 隐藏’s song 待会儿 from the album 《花天酒地》 comes to mind. To be fair, some members of the group are not Chinese or not native mandarin speakers.

  3. Jon Nicklin Says: May 25, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    To be honest, I think the majority pronunciation on the mainland is yi1hui3er. Very seldom hear it pronounced yi2hui4er and feels very forced to me. (Learnt Chinese in Hebei, now living in Shanghai)

  4. Hey John,

    I sort of cringed a little at the translation of the poem which was given on Baidu Baike? The original poem is so elegant and simple, it’s profound. The translation loses it really. Here’s an alternative version in which I’ve tried to preserve the simplicity and immediateness of the original poem.

    with your eyes on me
    with your eyes on the clouds
    I feel
    you’re so far away when you’re looking at me
    you’re so near when you’re looking at the clouds

  5. Can anyone point me to a recital of 远和近 I need to hear it read aloud 🙂 Thanks

  6. Thomas Toland Says: October 5, 2017 at 10:52 pm

    Hear and listening is a big part of any language and this is particularly true of Chinese and all Asian languages.

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