This piece is based on the Chinese poem River Snow by Liu Zangyuan (773—819), writer and poet of the Tang Dynasty. The theme’s melody mirrors the tonal shifts that can be heard when the poem is recited in its original Chinese. I’ve translated the poem’s text as follows:
“A thousand mountains—no bird’s flight.
Ten thousand paths—no man’s trace.
Single boat, an old man, in a straw raincoat.
Alone, fishing, in the icy river. Snow.”