Many thanks to @yanzhiao for sharing the poem, and for help with translation.



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Hè Lín “sī bīn nuò shā xiàng zàn”

He Lin “Inscriptions on a Portrait of Spinoza”

1. 宁静淡泊,持躬卑谦。
níng jìng dàn bó, chí gōng bēi qiān.

Living life simply, peacefully,
keeping yourself modestly.

2. 道弥六合,气凌云汉。
dào mí liù hé, qì líng yún hàn.

Dao fills the universe,
Spirit soars to the stars.

3. 神游太虚,心究自然。
shén yóu tài xū, xīn jiū zì rán.

Mind travelling the universe,
your heart investigated nature.

4. 辨析情意,如治点线。
biàn xī qíng yì, rú zhì diǎn xiàn.

Analysing affection and idea
by the rules of point and line.

5. 精察性理,揭示本源。
jīng chá xìng lǐ, jiē shì běn yuán.

A close examination of properties
brings to light the roots.

6. 知人而悯人,知天而爱天。
zhī rén ér mǐn rén, zhī tiān ér ài tiān.

Knowing humanity but pitying humanity,
Knowing nature but loving nature.

7. 贯神人而一物我,超时空而齐后先。
guàn shén rén ér yī wù wǒ, chāo shí kōng ér qí hòu xiān.

Connecting God and man, unifying object and self;
Beyond time and space, uniting before and after.

8. 与造物游,与天地参。
yǔ zào wù yóu, yǔ tiān dì cān.

both immersed in substance,
and engaged part in the world.

9. 先生之学,亦诗亦哲;
xiān shēng zhī xué, yì shī yì zhé;

Teacher of science, both poetic and wise.

10. 先生之品,亦圣亦仙。
xiān shēng zhī pǐn, yì shèng yì xiān.

Teacher of morals, both sainted and celestial.

11. 世衰道微,我生也晚;
shì shuāi dào wēi, wǒ shēng yě wǎn;

The world wanes and the way is dim,
I was born late.

12. 高山仰止,忽后瞻前。
gāo shān yǎng zhǐ, hū hòu zhān qián.

A high mountain, a summit to aim for,
Forget the past and face the future.


He Lin 贺麟 was a twentieth century philosopher, a representative of the Chinese new Confucianism, also with interests in Hegel and Spinoza.

The title is an allusion to 《历代古人像赞》 (“Lì dài gǔ rén xiàng zàn”, “Praise for the ancients”), a 15th century book of portraits of classic thinkers. Each portrait had a short poem inscription.

*** 12.1 Book of Songs

The first part of line 12 is an allusion to a poem in the Book of Songs (《诗经》, “Shī jīng”). Although the allusion is perhaps to the line’s Confucian reuse in the Shǐjì (史記):


The poem says: “Look up at the high mountains and walk along the wide road”. Although I can not reach this level, my heart desires to be there.


*** 12.2 Confucius

The second part of line 12 is an allusion to analect 9.11 from Confucius’ Analects:

颜渊喟然叹曰:‘仰之弥高,钻之弥坚,瞻之在前,忽焉在后。夫子循循然善诱人,博我以文,约我以礼。欲罢不能, 既竭吾才,如有所立卓尔。遂欲从之,末由也已。’

Yan Hui, with a deep sigh, said, ‘The more I look up at it, the higher it soars; the more I penetrate into it, the harder it becomes. I am looking at it in front of me, and suddenly it is behind me. The Master is good at drawing me forward a step at a time; he broadens me with culture and disciplines my behavior through the observance of ritual propriety. Even if I wanted to quit, I could not. And when I have exhausted my abilities, it is as though something rises up right in front of me, and even though I want to follow it, there is no road to take.’

(tr. Roger T. Ames)