Skip to Content
Closed today, next open Thursday. Closed today, next open Thursday.

Song of a Fisherman

A work made of handscroll; ink on paper.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

Image actions

  • A work made of handscroll; ink on paper.


Ming dynasty (1368–1644)


Wang Wen (1497-1576)

About this artwork

Wang Wen exemplified the life of the scholar-official in Ming dynasty China. He retired from government service to his lakeside retreat and pursued painting, calligraphy, and poetry. For this painting, Wang Wen wrote a poem (also entitled “Song of a Fisherman”), which includes several allusions to moral integrity. This poem displays the artist’s distinctively fluid, cursive “draft script” (cao shu). Its first section reads as follows:

Most men of the world fish with crooked hooks: I alone trust in hooks, but never in fancy baits. After rain, I carry my long pole to the terrace edge and dangle if from among pines and clouds above the ripples of Qi. (translated by Irving Yucheng Lo)

Qi refers to a river in north-central China. This river is cited in several verses of the Shijing (Book of Odes) – a compilation of more than three hundred poems datable between about 1000 and 600 B.C that extol men of principle. Government officials often alluded to these poems to convey Confucian teachings.


Currently Off View


Arts of Asia


Wang Wên


Song of a Fisherman


China (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Handscroll; ink on paper


Front piece "Mind is not in caching fish" Artist’s inscription ( a long poem ) Most men of the world fish with crooked hook; I alone trust in hooks, but never in fancy baits. After rain, I carry my long pole to the terrace edge And dangle it from among pines and clouds above the ripples of chi’s. Softly, gently, a light breeze caresses my face, And, o’er the water, peach-blossoms in the dew Show off their first blush. Beneath a cluster of leaves, warbling orioles cry all day And in a trice all fragrant blossoms also fade and Lie strewn about. Have you not seen all the lush groves and gardens of old? Facing pairs of copper dragons sprouting sweet scents By an overflowing pool? When an imperial carriage visits the pond, all Vagrant small grasses go into hiding, Then perfumed embroideries, purple sashes appear like cloud-formations. But how many times has this place known wars and battles? And today only foxes and rabbits lord over the high plains at nightfall. Once I had driven my carriages out of Eastern Brightness, At dawn I inquired from travelers about the road ahead. Vermillion pavilions, carmine towers beckoned from afar, And I was lost among flowers and mist, Above or below the illusory silver Bridge. Now home, in lowliness and poverty, I sought Contentment by the eastern river. Between heave and earth, low and high ranks exist side by side; Together they spring up, Together they flourish. Who, without looking all around, won’t Revere the earliest light of the dawn That renews, freshens each scene and object? Myriad things and I rejoice in the same spring: Would I still follow the crowd of slimy profiteers? Bending objects to lure fish harms perfect goodness! (translated by Irving Yucheng Lo) artist's seals. clophon by Zhang Heng


28.6 × 167.7 cm (11 1/4 × 66 in.)

Credit Line

The Orientals Sundry Fund

Reference Number


IIIF Manifest  The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) represents a set of open standards that enables rich access to digital media from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions around the world.

Learn more.

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions