Friday Song: ‘Second Farewell to Cambridge,’ Xu Zhimo’s poem that inspired multiple songs

Society & Culture

April marks National Poetry Month, and we’re running a series of articles to celebrate it.

“Second Farewell to Cambridge” (再别康桥 zàibié kāngqiáo) is a Mandopop song released last June on Taiwanese singer Yoga Lin’s 林宥嘉 debut album, Mystery Guest (神秘嘉宾 shénmì jiābīn), and is adapted from a well-known modern poem of the same name by Xu Zhimo 徐志摩.

Xu was a leading figure of the modern Chinese poetry movement in the early 20th century. After attending King’s College in Cambridge, England for a year, he fell in love with English romantic poetry by writers such as John Keats and Percy Shelley, and was greatly influenced by French romantic and symbolist poets. Xu returned to China and sought to transpose these Western poetic forms onto modern Chinese verse, teasing the boundaries of traditional Chinese poetry and infusing it with modern vernacular (baíhuà).

“Second Farewell to Cambridge” is arguably Xu’s most famous poem, written in 1928 after his last visit to Cambridge, expressing all his nostalgic love for the place upon his departure. The poem is now widely read in Chinese literature courses and has been sung to music various times. The first musical recording of “Second Farewell to Cambridge” was commissioned by King’s College and arranged by renowned English composer John Rutter. Rutter’s version, performed by Bo Wang 王博, is perhaps the most Westernized interpretation of the song in its operatic, choral style. Another notable rendition of the poem is Stella Chang’s 张清芳 in 1989. Arranged by Li Datao 李达涛, this ballad version heightens the plaintive emotions in the piece.

In contrast, Lin’s version, composed by Xi Lou 西楼, is less heart-wrenching in its goodbye; Lin’s airy vocals weave between traditional Chinese and Western instruments to convey a more hopeful, amiable adieu to a lost poet from another time, longing for another place.

Below are the translations for “Second Farewell to Cambridge.” In comparison to the original poem, one can see that several adjustments have been made to fit Lin’s rendition. The fifth stanza of the poem became the first chorus of the song, and the third and fourth stanzas of the poem became verse two of the song. The last stanza, a near-identical echo of the first, takes the tune of the chorus in the song, which plays very differently than the first stanza, which is sung in the verse’s tune. Some words were also repeated in the song in order to fit their given melodies, such as “Very quietly I take my leave” (悄悄的我走了) modified to “Very quietly I take my leave, take my leave” (悄悄的我走了走了).

轻轻的我走了 / Very quietly I take my leave
正如我轻轻的来 / As quietly as I came here
我轻轻的招手 / Quietly I wave goodbye
作别西天的云彩 / To the rosy clouds in the western sky

河畔的金柳 / The golden willows by the riverside
是夕阳中的新娘 / Are young brides in the setting sun
波光里的艳影 / Their reflections on the shimmering waves
在我心头荡漾 / Always linger in the depth of my heart

寻梦撑一支一支长篙 / To seek a dream, just to pole a boat upstream
向青草更青处漫溯 / To where the green grass is more verdant
满载一船一船星辉 / Or to have the boat fully loaded with starlight
在星辉斑斓里放歌 / And sing aloud in the splendor of starlight

软泥上的青荇 / The floating heart growing in the sludge
油油的在水底招摇 / Sways leisurely under the water
在康河的柔波里 / In the gentle waves of Cambridge
我甘心做一条水草 / I would be a water plant

那榆荫下的一潭 / That pool under the shade of elm trees
不是清泉是天上虹 / Holds not water but the rainbow from the sky
揉碎在浮藻间 / Shattered to pieces among the duckweeds
沈淀著彩虹似的梦 / Is the sediment of a rainbow-like dream

但我不能大声放歌  / But I cannot sing aloud
悄悄是别离的笙箫 / Quietness is my farewell music
夏虫也会为我沉默  / Even summer insects heap silence for me
沉默是今晚的康桥 / Silent is Cambridge tonight

悄悄的我走了走了 / Very quietly I take my leave, take my leave
正如我悄悄的来 / As quietly as I came here
我挥一挥衣袖衣袖 / Gently I flick my sleeves
不带走一片云彩 / Not even a wisp of cloud will I bring away

Friday Song is SupChina’s weekly sign-off. Let us know what you thought of the week that was in the comments below, or email