A song of pure happiness, I
I want to believe that
Her clothes are a cloud, her dress a flower that
I could hold in the palm of my hand, and
That the wind of Spring will brush away the dazzling dew
So, that I might see the peak of Jade Mountain
From the platform of a heavenly paradise
I begin by asking myself if happiness exists.
There are few poems on the subject written by the Tang poets. I did come across a series of poems by the poet Li Bai, with the alluring description, A Song of Pure Happiness I, II, and III.
Happiness, most philosophers would say, is an illusive thing. And, the two Chinese characters in the poem’s title 清 平, are usually translated as “pure happiness,” but that is not entirely accurate.
平 is not even close to the Chinese character for happiness. That character is 雙喜. If one is referring to double happiness, then 喜喜, which is often inscribed on jars and vases.
Rather, 平 means peace or calm, but if the world is at peace, then I suppose I would be happy. I also suspect from a philosophical standpoint, and the philosophy here would be Buddhist or Taoist, happiness is not the goal in life. It is ephemeral like the cloud-like gown Li Bai imagines.
There is a little eroticism involved here. I picture Li Bai out for a prowl on the town, a couple of drinks under his woolen tunic, looking up at the balcony, seeing a beautiful girl in silk and becoming enamored.
Jade Mountain which Li Bai references is a place name, or rather a mythological place name that predates the Tang dynasty. It is located in the west and it is home to the Queen Mother of the West, who dispensed eternal bliss and a good measure of happiness.
It is also likely that Li Bai’s mention of 會 向, is another place-name, Yáotái, but this will take a little more time to look into than I now have. I will say that tai references a high place from which all of the surroundings may be viewed.
The character for bliss in Chinese is 福, the other half of the two characters that make up happiness, 幸福, literally, lucky to be blissful. One does observe the similarity in the two characters, 平 and 幸, peace and lucky, but that may be just coincidence.
One observes that the world is lucky if it is at peace.
Li Bai’s rhyme scheme is aaba. This and other internal rhymes are sadly lost in translation.
The original Chinese poem
平 調 之 一
雲 想 衣 裳 花 想 容
春 風 拂 檻 露 華 濃
若 非 群 玉 山 頭 見
會 向 瑤 臺 月下 逢
Voit-il des nuages, et pense à sa robe ; voit-il des fleurs.
Le vent du printemps souffle sur la balustrade embaumée ;
la rosée s’y forme abondamment.
Quand ce n’est pas au sommet du Yu-chan (montagne de jade) qu’il l’aperçoit,
C’est dans la tour Yao-taï qu’il la retrouve, sous les rayons de la lune.
The translation is not mine. It is from 唐 詩 Tang Shi 300 Tang poems. There is a remark in the footnotes that is interesting. Le mont Yu-chan et la tour Yao-taï étaient des lieux célèbres habités par les immortels.