12 Beautiful Chinese Poems About Flowers
Flowers are a timeless theme in both Eastern and Western poetry. While in the West, flowers are often metaphors for a lady’s beauty, they have a different meaning altogether in Chinese culture.
For instance, the Chinese literati have dubbed four flowers—plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo, and chrysanthemums—as “The Four Gentlemen” because of their extraordinary qualities that inspire people to raise their moral standards.
In the article that follows, we will share with you several such beloved Chinese poems about flowers.
Poems About Plum Blossoms
The plum blossoms at the corner of the wall
Blossom all alone in the chilly snowfall;
You can’t mistake them for snow mass from afar,
For a subtle fragrance keeps coming forth.
By Wang Anshi, 1021–1086
As the symbol of perseverance, hope, and purity, the plum blossom has been a constant theme in traditional Chinese literature. While other flowers wait for the warm breeze of spring to make their appearance, the plum blossom makes its appearance amidst the chilly wind and snow, charming passers-by with its subtle fragrance.
Bloom ahead of hundreds of flowers,
Appear in the cold of snow and ice.
The frost and the moon are sure to know you,
Being the first to see the face of the spring breeze.
By Xin Qiji, 1140–1207
In the early spring breeze, when every other blossom is still asleep, the frosty moon sees the plum blossoms standing alone with fortitude as they silently spread hope that spring is coming.
I have no intention of holding onto spring,
I’ll leave jealousy for various flowers to endure.
As blossoms fall to the ground and turn to dust,
They leave only the fragrances that never change.
By Lu You, 1125–1210
The plum blossom is confident and noble. It doesn’t try to fight for its place in the warm spring and has no intention of competing with other flowers. When the time is due, the plum blossom’s petals fall and mix with mud and dirt, yet the fragrance they leave behind will never change. This is the spirit that traditional Chinese people seek. Everyone will eventually be gone, but what you do should leave a positive legacy for future generations.
Poems About Orchids
My love for the orchid is different from all the other blossoms,
For it does not color to charm the spring sun.
Under the cold dew of the west wind and deep forest,
It smells fragrant even if no one is around.
By Xue Wang, ~1400
In traditional Chinese culture, the orchid has been a sign of reserve and refinement. The flower grows in the deep valley in tranquility and seclusion, yet it won’t stop emitting its fragrance even when there’s no one to admire it. Chinese culture believes that a gentleman will watch his behavior all the time, especially if he’s alone. He’s not acting for others; that’s just how he is.
Temperament like the orchid’s never-changing fragrance,
Heart like the orchid’s never-moving core.
By Confucius, 551 BC–479 BC
The orchid is renowned for its special fragrance: it’s subtle yet distinct. Although the flower appears fragile, it could live unattended in an abyss or on a cliff. It’s a flower that remains unchanged whether it has admirers or not.
There is a beauty in the empty valley, quietly embracing the seclusion alone.
The east wind sometimes brushes it, the mellow fragrance spreads far and wide.
By Sun Kehong, 1533–1611
The poet uses a metaphor to describe the orchid as a beauty. However, in Chinese literature, the term beauty is not limited to beautiful women but rather to anyone with beautiful virtues. The orchid was a typical accessory for ancient Chinese gentlemen to wear because of its gentle, fragrant, and untainted nature.
Poems about Bamboo
The bamboo clings firmly to the mountain slope,
In the chasm of a rock, it plants its root so deep.
In spite of all beats, it stands still, not bending low,
Whether from the east, west, south or north, the wind does blow.
By Zheng Banqiao, 1693–1766
The history of Chinese civilization is deeply bound to the bamboo. Before paper was invented, bamboo was the most common writing medium for documents as early as 1000 B.C. Just like pine trees, bamboo remains green during the harsh winter. Many literati have used the sturdy plant as a theme to portray characteristics such as being straightforward, unyielding, and strong in bearing hardship.
With the joints the bones are strong; with the hollow interior the character is noble.
By Qian Zhangming, unknown dates
A bamboo is connected by “joints” or “sections.” These are evenly distributed on every plant and won’t fade with age or change according to its environment. A gentleman must hold onto his morality as consistently as a bamboo holds onto his joints.
Another feature of bamboo is its hollow interior. Chinese culture recognizes it as a sign of a clean heart and modesty. That is because when one has these traits, one recognizes that there’s always room for more knowledge and improvement.
One section after another, a thousand branches with ten thousand leaves
I don’t bloom, so I don’t tease bees and butterflies.
By Zheng Xie, 1693–1766
Bamboo can be used for food, transportation, instruments, books, and much more. It’s not as luscious as the peony, not as steady as the pine tree, and doesn’t bear fruits like the peach and plum, but people praise its upright, modest, and elegant quality.
Poems About Chrysanthemums
Not that more than the rest I these adore,
But once they are gone, flowers are no more.
By Yuan Zhen, 779–831
The chrysanthemum has been titled “the hermit of flowers.” Just as the plum blossom blooms before other flowers wake, the chrysanthemum blooms after all other flowers wither. It doesn’t compete with other blossoms and blooms despite the cold autumn frost. Literati adore the chrysanthemum for its secluded, unyielding quality.
I would rather die on the branch holding fragrance,
Why would I ever flow down with the north wind?
By Zheng Sixiao, 1241–1318
One interesting fact about some kinds of chrysanthemums is that when the flower withers, its countless tiny petals rest intact on the stem for a long time; they’re not blown away by the wind. Poets used this quality to express their determination—even if they die, they shall not be moved.
Withered lotuses have lost their umbrellas to the rain;
Yet the waning chrysanthemum stalks still hold out against the frost.
By Su Shi, 1037–1101
When early winter comes, contrary to other decaying plants, the chrysanthemum is still holding tight, standing against the weather with all its might.
In the long history of Chinese literature, flowers are not only an ornament but also a cultural symbol for the nation. Other than these “four gentlemen,” many other flowers also carry beautiful meanings. For example, the peach blossom symbolizes love and affection, while the peony carries beauty and decorum.
Whenever we see flowers, we’re not only delighted by their beauty, but we’re also inspired by their character. We hope these beautiful Chinese poems about flowers will inspire you today as well.