In my youth, knowing little of the world, I knew nothing of the taste of sorrow. I pretended sorrow to write nice-sounding poems. The sorrow after having experienced many hardships in life is true sorrow. Having tasted its true taste, however, I am scared and careful to mention it now. I want to lay my heart open on sorrow, but instead I simply say, ‘what a great autumn day,’ and keep my mouth closed. I wonder why.
At the time, the Southern Song Dynasty was split between making up with the Jin dynasty of Jurchen people in central districts and fighting back to regain its old territory. As it leaned toward pacifism, the poet who argued for fighting was sent to a remote region. As a commander who wrote many poems on patriotic passion and had actual battle experiences, he must have felt a deep sense of frustration. The poet might have wanted to transcend his disappointment and anger at the advocates of peace, as well as his deep sorrow, into a cry to the sky. Such an ironical cry resonates like a desperate wail.
‘Chou Nuer’ is the title of the poem written in a type of lyric poetry called Ci. The title simply defines the poem’s format and is not related to its content. Taiwanese singer Teng Li-chun sang a song based on the poem, making the poem better known to the public.