Art teaches us how to show hospitality because they presuppose a warm welcome toward anything that is unique and unfamiliar. Chinese poet Xu Zhimo (1897-1931) shows this virtue of the arts clearly in “Saying Goodbye to Cambridge Again.”
Just as implied in the title, he sings about how he feels emotionally when he leaves Cambridge again after coming back. In the June issue of “Chun-Choo” in 1941, Korean poet Lee Yuk-sa highly acclaimed Xu Zhimo, translating the first verse of this poem as “Lightly I leave/As lightly I came/I lightly wave goodbye/To the sunlit clouds in the western sky.” The author wishes to stay in Cambridge as if he were a waterweed in the peaceful river, adding rhythms of the Chinese language to the sadness about leaving behind the place filled with his memories behind.
Cambridge had a special place in Xu Zhimo’s heart. It led him to a woman that he fell in love with and drove this man majoring in economics to the world of literature. In Cambridge, he was deeply inspired by English Romantic poets such as Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats and William Wordsworth, enabling him to produce many pieces, which turned into the columns of modern Chinese poetry as commented by Lee Yuk-sa. This may explain well why Xu Zhimo is lauded by China and Britain, separately. Chinese textbooks teach young students his poetry while a monument of his poetry with the last verse written on it stands on campus at Cambridge University. “Quietly I leave/As quietly I came/I cast my sleeves a little/Not taking even a strand of cloud away.”
As pointed out by Lee Yuk-sa when he translated this piece into Korean 80 years ago, it is never an easy job to bring rhythms and tones in foreign languages to Korean. You may find it helpful to watch Canadian comedian and television personality Mark Rowswell demonstrating the beauty of the Chinese language while reading this poem on YouTube. This incredibly adorable piece sees an unfamiliar country and an alien city as the objects of hospitality. That is why Xu Zhimo’s song about Cambridge is worth reading amid growing animosity and hatred in the era stricken by war.