Xu Zhi Mo Poem ‘On Leaving Cambridge’

Nov 23, 03:13 PM

This history trail audio is narrated by the poet Michael Rosen, with script researched by Helen Weinstein and the team at Historyworks. This recording is part of a series of Cambridge history trails which have lyrics inspired by 'history beneath our feat' performed by local schoolchildren, with poems by the top poet Michael Rosen and songs by the funny team at CBBC's songwriters commissioned by Historyworks. To find more trails and further information, go to http://www.creatingmycambridge.com/trails

Along the bank of the river Cam, behind Kings College, an important poem is inscribed on a stone. This isn’t just any poem, it was written by Xu Zhi Mo, one of China’s foremost poets of the twentieth century, and it’s titled ‘On Leaving Cambridge.’ Xu Zhi Mo studied here as a visiting scholar, and when he left in 1928, he wrote a poem which captured his love for Cambridge, and the beauty of the city. Don’t just take our word for it: Mo’s poem is considered so important in China today that school children there are expected to learn it by rote!

Poetry is incredibly important to Chinese culture, used as a medium to shape and transmit cultural values, teach children morals and celebrate the complex and beautiful Chinese language. Historically, China has drawn on the landscape and natural surroundings to inspire art, music and poetry. Xu Zhi Mo did the same, yet this time he chose Cambridge as his inspiration, capturing the city in a Chinese style and creating a new image of English nature in China.

In the 21st century, Chinese culture has a huge and growing influence in Britain, in our cuisine, for example. It’s nice to know that while we enjoy Chinese culture at home, adults and children in China can experience a little bit of ‘Cambridge’ in their day-to-day lives. Here is a verse from Mo’s poem, is there anything you recognise?

‘The golden willows by the riverside Are young brides in the setting sun; Their glittering reflections on the shimmering river Keep undulating in my heart’

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