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.
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.
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.