He Zhizhang (Chinese: 賀知章; pinyin: Hè Zhīzhāng; Wade–Giles: Ho Chih-chang, ca. 659–744), courtesy name Jizhen (季真), was a Chinese poet and scholar-official born in Yongxing, Yue Prefecture (越州永兴, present-day Xiaoshan, Zhejiang) during the Tang Dynasty. He entered the civil service after achieving a jinshi degree in 695 during the reign of Empress Regnant Wu Zetian, and continued serving the court under three subsequent emperors Zhongzong, Ruizong, and Xuanzong, serving first in the Imperial Academy (guozijian), and then in the Ministry of Rites and Ministry of Works.
Well regarded for his poetry and calligraphy, he is one of the Tang dynasty's Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup. Only a few of his works have survived. His well-known works include Ode to the Willow (咏柳) and a pair of poems, On Returning Home (回鄉偶書). On Returning Home is a wistful and nostalgic work composed by He on his return to his home village at the age of 85, when he was granted retirement by Emperor Xuanzong in 744, just a few months before his death, after almost five decades of service to the imperial court. The first of the pair, "Returning Home As An Unrecognized Old Man," is particularly well-known, having been anthologized in the Three Hundred Tang Poems and appearing in elementary school textbooks in China.
Of his surviving calligraphic works, one is a grass-script copy of the Xiaojing, currently located in Japan, another is an engraved stele (龍瑞宮記) located near Shaoxing, Zhejiang.
- The character 偶 here means "unplanned; accidental," so 回鄉偶書 means something like Impromptu Writings on Returning Home.
- The character 衰 has several different meanings and readings. Scholars and educators have argued over the proper interpretation and reading of this character in Standard Modern Chinese (SMC). 衰 (Middle Chinese: 楚危切, SMC: cuī) with the meaning "gradual decrease or loss" is generally believed to be correct on both semantic and phonological grounds, although some have argued that 衰 (Middle Chinese: 所追切, SMC: shuāi) with the meaning "decline; senescence" is correct.
- I leave home green and come back grayed; tongue unchanged but sideburns frayed. Smiling at the guest they see; children query, "Whence comes he?" Literal translation: I leave home young and return old; my native accent is unchanged but my sideburns grow thin. Children see but do not recognize me; they ask smiling, "From where does this guest come?"
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