To One Unnamed 3, 无题之三

Time was, long before I met her,
but longer still, since we parted,
The east wind is powerless, for it has come

and a hundred flowers are gone,
And the silk-worms of spring will spin until they die
And every night candles will weep their wicks away.
In the morning mirror she sees her temple hair

changing the color of clouds
Chanting poems in the chill of moonlight.
Oh, it is not so very far to Penglai
O blue-birds listen, bring me what she says.

Penglai, , Yuan Jiang (袁江) 1680-1730

Interpreting Li Shangyin

This is the third of five poems Li Shangyin wrote to one unnamed.

Line one describes the difficulty of poet and the object of his poem in meeting. Time being the greatest obstacle to two lovers(?). Powerless is the East Wind 东风 Dōngfēng of spring because all its flowers have come and gone. Life will go on like the silkworm spinning, until it dies. And each night the candle wax weeps as the wick fades away.

The poet’s unnamed muse sees herself in the mirror. She sees the silver hairs growing at her temples. Still she chants her poems in the chill of moonlight 月光 Yuèguāng .

It is not far to Never-never land

That is how one would translate 蓬莱 Pénglái . In Chinese mythology it is a mythical island, home to the Eight Immortals, where there is no pain and no winter; where rice bowls and wine glasses never become empty no matter how much people eat or drink; and where enchanted fruits grow that can heal any ailment, grant eternal youth, and raise the departed.

Chinese

无题之三

相见时难别亦难
东风无力百花残
春蚕到死丝方尽
蜡炬成灰泪始干
晓镜但愁云鬓改
夜吟应觉月光寒
蓬莱此去无多路
青鸟殷勤为探看

Pinyin

Wútí zhī sān

xiāng jiàn shí nán
bié yì nán dōngfēng wúlì bǎihuā cán
chūncán dào sǐ sī fāng jǐn
là jù chéng huī lèi shǐ gàn
xiǎo jìng dàn chóu yúnbìn gǎi
yè yín yīng jué yuèguāng hán
pénglái cǐ qù wú duō lù
qīngniǎo yīnqín wèi tàn kàn
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Farmhouse on the Wei River, Wang Wei 王 維

Wei River Farmhouse
The light at dusk cast shadows on the old grave stones
The ox and sheep return down the shabby lane
In the field an old shepherd reads to his son
Leaning on a cane, waiting at the thorny entrance
In the wheat stocks, I hear the crow of a ringed neck pheasant
Silkworms sleep in the half-eaten mulberry leaves
And the farmers return with hoes on their shoulders
Greeting each other with familiar words
I draw near in envy of their idleness and leisure
Regretfully chanting this little poem
Ah, to go back again

The Golden Hour

The Tang Dynasty was considered China’s Golden Age. The An Lushuan Rebellion came and went and changed all this and nothing would ever be the same.

Charges of disloyalty were lodged against Wang Wei, but dropped. Wishing to escape the limelight, China’s superstar poet and artist became a devout Buddhist and took time to travel and record nature’s beauty.

The scene – a farm house in poor village along the Wei River. It is the hour before sunset, the golden hour to photographers and poets. It is a magical time when everything takes on a golden hue.

Wang tries to record the scene before the sun sets and all disappears. He is walking down an old lane leaving the village. The slanted light (line one, 斜光) on the gravestones (墟, grave) stir thoughts of his mortality. The ox and sheep shuffle down the shabby lane. In the field is an old shepherd and his son. A pheasant stirs in the wheat. And the farmers idly chat.

The poet nostalgically (line 8, 依依, yīyī ) draws near.

渭川田家

斜光照墟落

窮巷牛羊歸

野老念牧童

倚杖候荊扉

雉雊麥苗秀

蠶眠桑葉稀

田夫荷鋤立

相見語依依

即此羨閒逸

悵然吟式微

又作至

Wèi chuāntián jiā
xié guāngzhào xū luò
qióng xiàng niú yáng guī
yělǎo niàn mùtóng
yǐ zhàng hòu jīng fēi
zhì gòu màimiáo xiù
cán mián sāng yè xī
tiánfū hè chú lì
xiāng jiàn yǔ yīyī
jí cǐ xiàn xián yì
chàngrán yín shìwēi
yòu zuò zhì

china bike alongside river and mountains

Old poems like old friends

Thought One of Four Poems
A lonely swan comes from the sea
Daring not to land on lake or pond
Looking aside, he spies a kingfisher pair
Three nesting on a pearled tree
Bravely at the tree’s top
Have they no fear of stones?
For those clothed in beauty invite people pointing
And the mighty face an evil god
And the admiration of hunters’ desires

Old friends, old poems

“Old poems are like old friends,” wise men say. “You should visit them from time to time.” We last visited Zhang Jiluing in November of last year. Then he gave us his first thought about his fall from power in 737.

I have reproduced it above.

kingfisher

Chinese

感遇四首之一

孤鴻海上來
池潢不敢顧
側見雙翠鳥
巢在三珠樹
矯矯珍木巔
得無金丸懼
美服患人指
高明逼神惡
弋者何所慕

Zhang Jiuling

Zhang, you may or may not recall, was a noted poet and scholar, titled the Count Wenxian of Shixing, deputy head of the legislative bureau of government, then chancellor to the Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty.

But a chancellor’s good advice is not always well received.

In 736, General Zhang Shougui suffered a loss in battle because his subordinate General An Lushan failed to follow orders. An, who was of of Sogdian and Göktürk origin, was ordered to appear in front of the emperor to hear his fate. Zhang favored execution, saying that An was likely to commit treason again. The emperor disregarded his advice and Am remained a general. A year later, Zhang was demoted and died in 740.

Zhang’s prediction proved accurate. In 755 General An Lushan revolted and Emperor Xuanzong was forced to flee the capital.

Notes on translation

巢在三珠樹 Cháo zài sān zhūshù, Three nesting in a pearl tree or nesting in three pearl trees? I lean toward the conclusion that three are a crowd, and two of the emperor’s advisors ganged up against Zhang.

The beautiful bird in fancy feathers should beware.. Tian-tsui is an ancient Chinese art featuring kingfisher feathers and using the iridescent blue feathers of kingfisher birds as an inlay for art objects and articles of adornment, such as hairpins, headdresses, and fans.

Part 3, Waking from a Stupor on a Spring Day (春日醉起言志) Li Bai

Touched by the beauty of the bird’s song, I sigh,
Turning to my wine, I pour
Awaiting the moon with a grand song, I sing
Singing to the end, unmoved

Li Bai, Waking from a Stupor on a Spring Day, third and final verse

Life, a story in three acts

Is this the way life ends, with a song, then silence?

In part one we find our poet lying in a drunken stupor outside the palace door. Morning dawns, he awakes clutching a porch column, to see the beauty of the garden flowers. In part two, he hears the song of a warbler and is entranced. Poets like prostitutes sing and dance when the moon is out, but what does it mean?

In part three, we conclude.

Touched by the beauty of the bird’s song, he turns to his wine and drinks. Awaiting the evening and moon, he sings a great song, until the end, emptied of sentiment, he remains unmoved.

Let this be a poem lesson. Drinking all night will put you outside with what’s left of your wine, a song, and then, nothing.

Hao Ge, 浩歌

Our third verse presages 浩歌 Hao Ge, a poem by the Tang poet Li He (circa. 790–791 – 816–817), who likewise found wine and women irresistible and died at the early age of 26 or 27. Hao Ge, literally means “grand song”, one addressed to the universe. Max Ehrmann’s popular 20th century example “Desiderata” is a comparison that comes to mind.

Li Bai’s life ended, the story is told, when he fell from his boat, alone and drunk, trying to grasp the moon’s reflection in the water.

moon, boat, water, Li Bai

Notes on translation

感 Gǎn, touched, sensing
感之 Gǎn zhī, a sense of it
嘆息 tàn xī, breathe a sigh
酒 Jiǔ, wine, spirits
浩歌 Hao Ge, compound word meaning song of the universe, grand song
歌 ge, sing, song, praise
忘情 wàngqíng, unmoved, lacking sentiment

Chinese and Pinyin

感之欲嘆息 對酒還自傾
浩歌待明月 曲盡已忘情

Gǎn zhī yù tànxí duì jiǔ hái zì qīng
hào gē dài míngyuè qū jìn yǐ wàngqíng


Part 2, Waking from a Stupor on a Spring Day (春日醉起言志) Li Bai

Yesterday, we left super-poet Li Bai alone on the porch, drunk, clutching a column, lying in a stupor after a night of revelry and wine. Morning breaks and he comes to his senses, or does he?

Yesterday’s verse

a yellow leaf warbler

Coming to my sense, I see the courtyard
In the midst of the flowers a bird sings
Is it time to ask this question,
In Spring, why does the warbler sing to the breeze?

Li Bai

Words matter

Li Bai, if words matter, and I am told they do, you are playing with us like a musician plays a zither, a sound may mean many things.  Imagine Li Bai plopped outside the door as morning comes, pear blossoms are dancing in the wind, a warbler sings.

What does he think?

Poets, like brightly colored prostitutes and whores, ply their trade. They dance and sing, and when the morning comes they rest in bed. Still, a lonely warbler sings, to whom and what?

Yesterday is far away, in fact its gone. Li Bai, our super-star, once the darling of the Imperial court, finds himself on the outside, staring in, singing to the breeze, surrounded by the flowers.

Notes on translation

庭, ting, courtyard
鸣, ming, cry or sing
春风 chūn fēng, as compound word, spring wind; singularly, in spring, the wind
时, shi, the season, or time; a homophone for poem or verse, 诗
莺, ying, a warbler, also possibly a golden oriole
柳莺, liǔyīng, willow warbler; leaf warbler, a colorful bird with yellow markings that nests in spring; literally a prostitute.

Chinese and pinyin

觉来眄庭, 一鸟花间鸣
借问此何时, 春风语流莺

Jué lái miǎn tíng, yī niǎo huā jiān míng
jièwèn cǐ hé shí, chūnfēng yǔ liú yīng


Waking from a Stupor on a Spring Day (春日醉起言志) Li Bai

Life in this world is but a dream,
Why spoil it with work or worry?
So, saying, I was drunk all day long, now
Helplessly lying on the porch at my front door…

Waking from a Stupor on a Spring Day (春日醉起言志), Li Bai

Chinese and pinyin

處世若大夢,
胡爲勞其生.
所以終日醉,
頹然臥前楹.

Chǔshì ruò dà mèng,
húwèiláo qí shēng.
Suǒyǐ zhōngrì zuì,
tuírán wò qián yíng.

Notes on translation

Let this be a lesson to those of you who think it is cool to be drunk. Two more verses follow, which I will finish when my headache goes away:)
empty wine bottle

Clearing Rain, Du Fu (杜甫)

In Tianshui, the autumn clouds are thin,
The western wind having blown ten thousand li.
This morning’s view is clear and fine,
Long rains do not harm the land.
A row of willows trees begins to green,
The pear tree on the hill has little red buds.
Upstairs, a hujia pipe plays a tune ,
One goose flies high into the sky.

Du Fu, Clearing Rain
spring blossom

Cai Yan, daughter of Cai Yong

In 759, for the brief period of six weeks, Du Fu stayed in the city of Tianshui in Ganshu Province.

While he was there, it is likely that he heard the haunting hujia (literally, reeded pipe of Hu people) and the story of the beautiful Cai Yan (c. 178 – 249, daughter of Cai Yong). She was abducted by the western Xiongnu, married to a chieftain, and held captive for twelve years, bearing two children. Eventually ransomed, she returned to China, but was forced to leave her children behind.

In captivity, while riding on a cart, she heard the mournful reed of the nomads’ pipes, and was moved to compose this poem, which inspired Du Fu, who incorporates the similar sound “yi yan” (一雁, one goose) in the last line of his poem:

Nomad reed pipes softly blowing,
Horses whinnying on the frontier.
Above a solitary goose turns its head,
Its cry is heard, “Ying, ying.”

Chinese characters and pinyin

雨晴(一作秋霁)

天水秋云薄
从西万里风
今朝好晴景
久雨不妨农
塞柳行疏翠
山梨结小红
胡笳楼上发
一雁入高空

yǔ qíng(yī zuò qiū jì)
tiān shuǐ qiū yún báo
cóng xī wàn lǐ fēng
jīn zhāo hǎo qíng jǐng
jiǔ yǔ bù fáng nóng
sāi liǔ háng shū cuì
shān lí jiē xiǎo hóng
hú jiā lóu shàng fā
yī yàn rù gāo kōng


a solitary goose

Spring Morning 春晓 – Meng Haoran

Spring, I am half asleep and do not feel the dawn
But everywhere black birds are crying
Last night I heard the howling wind and rain
Do you know how many blossoms fell?

Spring Morning – Meng Haoran
Spring Morning, Birds Singing on a branch with Cherry Blossoms
Spring Morning, Birds Singing

Previously translated about 2 years ago. A favorite poem with children the world over. Worth a revisit.

Thoughts on Meng’s Spring Morning

Good poetry, like all good art, should evoke an emotion as this one does.

A lovely word picture, not of what one see, but what one feels. It was written by Meng Haoran (circa 689–740) during his time at a temple retreat on Lumen Mountain in Hubei Province. The temple is located a short distance southeast of the city where Meng was born and died, Xiangyang.

Imagines a day in early spring 春, the trees full of blossoms. A child lies in bed, the covers pulled over his or her head. Unable to sleep during the night because of the wind, thunder, and rain, our child is half awake.

Everywhere 处 处 birds are crying 啼. Not singing, but crying, crowing, weeping. Literally, cawing, like a crow. Why the sorrow?

花落知多少, Huā luò zhī duōshǎo?

How many blossoms fell?

Read French translation

春晓

春眠不觉晓
处处闻啼鸟
夜来风雨声
花落知多少

Chūn xiǎo

Chūn mián bù jué xiǎo,
chù chù wén tí niǎo.
Yè lái fēng yǔ shēng,
huā luò zhī duō shǎo

Snowy Night’s Lodging, Furong Mountain, My Host

Snowy Hut on Hibiscus Mountain

A snowy lodging, Furong Mountain, my host

In the twilight, the ashen gray mountains are far away
The day is cold, my hut snowy white.
At the wooden door, I hear the dog bark,
Amid the wind and snowy night, someone returns.

雪夜宿芙蓉山主人

日 暮 苍 山 远,
天 寒 白 屋 贫

柴 门 闻 犬 吠,
风 雪 夜 归 人

Xuě yè sù fúróng shān zhǔrén

rìmù cāngshān yuǎn,
tiān hán bái wū pín
cháimén wén quǎnfèi,
fēng xuě yè guī rén

Around the age of 70, our poet Liu Changqing (刘长卿, Liú Zhǎngqīng, circa 709–786), was appointed governor of Siuzhou in Henan province.

Furong Mountain (芙蓉山, Fúróng shān, literally Hibiscus Mountain) is found in Henan province. Puji Temple, a Buddhist temple is located at the very top of the mountain. Apparently, lodging was provided for visitors like Liu Changqing.

Isn’t it Pedantic?

My wife says I overthink things. My daughter says I obsess on trivial detail. And sometimes, we one relies on the possibly apocryphal statement by Sigmund Freud that sometimes, “A cigar is just a cigar.”

Still one tries to suck all the marrow from the bone, to find meaning that is not at first apparent, sometimes projecting thoughts never intended. But isn’t that the intent of poetry. It is a word picture and work of art. If any good, evoking feelings and emotions.

Our poet finds himself in a snow covered hut on Furong Mountain along with his dog. It is not his lodging for we learn in the last line that someone, the rightful owner, returns ( 人 归 ) as the wind howls, the snow blows, in the darkness of night (风 雪 夜 ).

Who is the owner and how will the trespassing Liu be greeted? Is not the mountain the true host (主人) ?

Chinese Temple


Seeing Meng Haoran off to Guangling – Li Bai 李 白

“You left me, old friend of the West, at the Yellow Crane Tower,
In Spring, going to Yangzhou, in a cloud of flowers;
Your lonely sail, a speck against blue sky, disappearing
Until now I only see the Yangtze and the sky.”

yellow crane tower, wuhan, china
yellow crane tower, wuhan, china

In the third lunar month of the New Year (middle March by modern calendars), Meng Haoran took leave of his friend Li Bai to make a 400 mile journey down the Yangtze(長江, chángjiāng) to Guangling and Yangzhou.

The place of their parting was the Yellow Crane Tower (黃鶴樓, Huánghè Lóu) in Wuhan, Hubei Province. It is a sacred site of Daoism, considered to be one of the four great towers in China. The symmetrical eaves on each floor are said to resemble a yellow crane soaring in the sky and clouds, reflecting immortality and wisdom.

Meng Haoran was born in 689 in Xiangyang, far western Hubei. Li Bai, ten years junior to the older Meng, was born in Suyab, on the Silk Road. For this tenuous reason, Li Bai refers to Meng as his old friend of the West (西 Xi). In the second line of the poem, Li Bai uses a metaphor 煙花 (flower and mist, together “fireworks”)* to describe the peach and cherry trees then in full blossom. Flower (花, Huā) has many symbolic meanings, also conveying a sense of magnificence and splendor.

The poem may date to the years 730-733, when Meng Haoran failed the imperial examinations for a second time and took to traveling to assuage his disappointment.

Li Bai wrote a second homage to his friend Meng Haoran.

Chinese Characters

送孟浩然之廣陵

故人西辭黃鶴樓
煙花三月下揚州
孤帆遠影碧空盡
惟見長江天際流

Pinyin

Sòng mènghàorán zhī guǎnglíng

gùrén xī cí huáng hè lóu
yānhuā sān yuè xià yángzhōu
gū fān yuǎn yǐng bìkōng jǐn
wéi jiàn chángjiāng tiānjì liú

Notes

*The exact date of the invention of fireworks is unknown. Therefore, this may be only a combination of the characters for flower and cloud, Anyone who has walked along a path of cherry trees in full blossom will understand splendor and the airy cloud-like feeling.
Yangtze River
Yangtze River