Ode to the Ai Shan Pavilion

  • by Huang Du (Song Dynasty)
  • Translated by ChatGPT, modified by Mingli Yuan


My dearest father just turned sixty years old. He has left all worldly concerns behind and built a residence in the shade of Mengtang Mountain to dwell in. He spends his days wandering among the mountains, eventually building a pavilion on the northern ridge. This vantage point allows one to look back and see all around; the world is subdued at one's feet. The spot is ideal for looking out over the landscape. Once, I was by his side. "What should we call this pavilion?" My family patriarch asked. I responded, "May I suggest naming it 'Ai Shan' (Love of Mountains)?" Then he asked, "Please explain your reasoning."


I replied, "The interest in going to and fro between the bustling city and the tranquil mountains is different. The motivations behind seeking the limelight or embracing simplicity, as well as between restlessness and serenity, vary from person to person. Everyone follows their own path and finds their own joy, never necessarily crossing paths."


"The mountains speak their own language; their peaks rise and fall like dragons soaring and cranes lifting their heads. The scenery constantly changes: the morning sun turns the sky purple, and the evening mist gives it a floating green tint. It darkens as if it were about to rain, and it brightens fresh after a storm. This is the whimsical transformation and consistent beauty of the mountains. Humans interact with this environment as well: they farm and hunt; they fish when the water level is low, accompanied by the calls of birds and the presence of deer."


"Therefore, if you view it as a place to leave, it may appear empty and desolate. But if you see it as a place to dwell, both the mountains and their residents offer ceaseless harmony. When your mood calms and your spirit melds with the surroundings, you will not even realize how naturally you have come to love the mountains. I believe this is the meaning behind 'Ai Shan' (Love of Mountains)."


My father chuckled and said, "You understand the exterior but not the interior; you know why they are lovable but not why I love them. Mount Tai, Mount Hua, and Mount Song are famed for their height; Tu, Shi, Yang, and Jing are known for their steepness. However, places such as Ji Shou and Shang Meng, Xian Wan and Lu Tong are not particularly high or steep, yet their names are widely recognized. The reason for this is because of their people. If one can love the flora based on the people who reside there, how much more can one love the mountains themselves?"


"Take a high vantage point and look around. Directly to the east, you will see a precarious peak that suddenly appears to lean to one side. That is Ying Mountain. Isn't it the dwelling place of Dao Shen master? Friends are influential figures who hold important posts, but he has always maintained his purity and ultimately chose to retire in these secluded mountains. Therefore, I admire its purity. Toward the southeast, hills interlock into a grid, which is Wo Province. Isn’t that the dwelling place of Zhi Dun? Being a Buddhist, he had a great reputation, and everyone, regardless of their social standing, sought his advice. Therefore, I appreciate its openness."


"To the north, beyond the slopes and bends, stands a mountain like a sword guarding its territory—that's Jin Ting; isn't it where Wang Yishao used to frequent? His insights were useful for his time, but he never compromised his integrity, which is why I love its steadfastness. Further to the north, majestic peaks stand tall and upright, like a distinguished jade tablet amidst other mountains—that’s Si Ming, where Xie Anshi used to wander. He was uninterested in worldly affairs and preferred solitude; hence, I appreciate its remoteness. In the southeast, a series of cliffs stacked upon one another, resembling a line of clouds or a formation of horses, is Tianmu Mountain, which is reputed to be the site where Li Bai once climbed. Even though the emperor knew about his talents, he always followed his own ideas, so I love its free spirit."


"Around my humble abode, to the left and right, there’s just one house, but the names of five renowned mountains can be heard. The rosy clouds mark their towering peaks, and the clear winds have been howling for a millennium now. Even though the sage's tent may now be empty, one can still imagine the lingering echoes of his coughs and sighs. Do you, my young son, understand my feelings?" I replied, "I am not wise enough to fully grasp this." My father advised, "Then, make it your aspiration." I bowed deeply twice and said, "I will, I will." Then, I retreated and recorded this, composing an 'Ode to the Ai Shan Pavilion'.


Respectfully written by Du, the youngest son, in the winter of the Yi Chou year