Resentment, Yuàn Qíng – Li Bai

 

A beauty unfurls a beaded curtain

Deeply seated, eyes furrowed

I see the tracks of her tears

But I can’t see who she hates

fashion-chinese-girl-curtain

The Tracks of My Tears

Linda Ronstadt recorded the Tracks of My Tears, a song written by Smokey Robinson in 1965. Smokey Robinson and The Miracles recorded it first, but Linda’s version hits home, perhaps because she is a woman.

Li Bai’s poem could have been title Lover’s Lament. Resentment is the usual English translation, the untold story of a beautiful courtesan who appears from behind a pearl studded curtain and taking a seat, hardly stirs, only reveling the hate in her heart with her deeply furrowed eyebrows and the poorly concealed tracks of her tears beneath her makeup.

Woe Be Thee

From Linda Ronstadt and Smokey Robinson to Li Bai and the Tang dynasty, let’s us now cross the earth to the Wife’s Lament in the tenth century English Exeter Book. It is a woman’s lament for her lost lover. I will give you only the last line of 53 lines of lament:

Woe be thee, they say, she who waits for a loved one

Wā bið þam þe sceal / of langoþe lēofes ābīdan.

Original Chinese

怨 情

美 人 捲 珠 簾,

深 坐 蹙 蛾 眉

但 見 淚 痕 濕

不 知 心 恨 誰

Pinyin

Yuàn qíng

měirén juǎn zhū lián,

shēn zuò cù éméi

dàn jiàn lèihén shī

bùzhī xīn hèn shuí

Notes on Translation

怨 情, Yuàn qíng , alternate translations include: Bitter Love, Romantic Resentment, or Lover’s Lament.

深坐, Shēn zuò, means “deep sitting” as in, sitting for a long time. Our beauty enters the room, sits, hardly stirring but for the furrow of her eyes.

蛾 眉, Éméi, the Chinese characters for “eyebrow moth” referring to the v-shaped eyebrows on a beautiful woman. Shaped eyebrows are the mark of a beautiful woman. They also reveal emotion.

蹙, Cù. Wrinkled, or furrowed. Furrowed eyes convey fear, surprise, hate, or sorrow. “Knitting one’s eyebrows” is the English idiom, conveying the impression of someone deep in thought.

恨 誰, Hèn shuí. Heart and hate. What does it feel like to have hate in your heart? It is an emotion we all experience, one that can lead to despair, anger, and revenge.

painting in Gu Lang Yu museum, Xiamen, Fujian, China
early 19th c. painting of Li Bai in Gu Lang Yu museum, Xiamen, Fujian, China

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