Quietly now I leave the CamAs mute as I arrived;Waving sleeve so slight, lest skyof cloudspeck be deprived.
Written on the occasion of his second and last trip to Cambridge, Xu Zhimo’s “Second Farewell to Cambridge” has become emblematic of modernist Chinese poetry. Xu (1897–1931) was one of the most prominent literary figures of China’s New Culture Movement, which sought to free Chinese thought through an emancipation of literature from classical strictures.
Xu first entered King’s College, Cambridge, in 1922, where he was enraptured with Romantic poetry and literature. Upon his return to China in 1923, he founded the Crescent Moon Society, after a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, and taught English at Peking University. His take on the New Culture Movement was to bring European Romanticism into Chinese poetry, and through a focus on authentic human emotions make a shift from classical to vernacular Chinese, the place of which in Chinese literature was being hotly debated.
Xu returned to Cambridge in 1928, and romanticized his memories of his alma mater through the punters, willows, duckweeds, and sunlight he experienced in the Backs of King’s College. The poem was published in the Crescent Moon periodical that December, and has since become a staple of the Chinese literary canon. Xu died in a plane crash not long after, in 1931.
Chinese tourists have flocked to Cambridge ever since in search of the scenes that so inspired Xu. In 2008, King’s College erected a memorial on the Backs facing the scene described by Xu, inscribing the first and last couplet of the poem on Beijing marble. A Xu Zhimo Friendship Garden was added next to the memorial in 2018. The memorial has become one of the most important sights for Chinese tourists in the United Kingdom, with many making their way to Cambridge to pay homage to one of China’s most beloved poets.
Know Before You Go
The stone is located in the Backs of King's College and is part of the tourist route.