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

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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