In Li Bai’s Autumn Wind, lovers know that love hurts. For me, it is late Autumn 2022, an Autumn wind comes again. The leaves outside my window have begun to fall. (I originally translated this poem in 2019). Years pass by too quickly. Oh, I miss the warm summer days, as autumn leaves start to fall…. Does this sound familiar?
A quiet Autumn wind, a bright Autumn moon
Falling leaves gather and scatter, a cold crows who settles is startled
Lovesick, who knows when we will meet again? This time, this night, unbearable
Come my love, know my love, that love hurts
Love that hurt lasts long, and each moment has no end
If I knew my thought for you, could be so tangled
Wouldn‘t it be better had we never met?
Qiūfēng qīng, qiūyuè míng
Luò yè jù hái sàn, hán yā qī fù jīng.
Xiāng sī xiāng jiàn zhī hé rì? Cǐ shí cǐ yè nán wéi qíng! …
A thousand years and more will not change the fact that love hurts, or that lovers who find happiness in meeting will discover sorrow in separating. Songwriters have expressed this feeling countless times.
Nazareth, the Scottish Rock Band of the 1970s and 80s, had something similar to say:
Love hurts, love scars
Love wounds and marks
Not tough or strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud
Holds a lot of rain
Li Bai’s imagery sets the scene, the autumn wind is still, the moon bright, crows perch on a tree then flee, lovers who meet, are already wondering when shall they meet again.
Translations Can Be Hard
Translations are and entanglement of the heart, that if I had known beforehand how hard, I might not have started.
Take the first line for example, 秋风清，秋月明, Qiūfēng qīng, Qiūyuè míng, the stillness of the Autumn Wind, the bright Autumn Moon, brings to mind the popular song, Les Feuilles mortes, (translation “dead leaves” which proves my point that translation can be difficult in any language)French lyrics by Jacques Prévert and the American version, Autumn leaves with its haunting lyrics by Johnny Mercer. “Falling leaves, that drift by my window, falling leaves of red and gold,” are echoed by Li Bai’s vivid imagery, “leaves that gather and scatter, a cold crow that settles and then startled.”
Li Bai’s use of the “cold crow,” a bird symbolizing gloominess and death, is closer to Jacques Prévert’s use of “Les Feuilles mortes,” dead leaves. Jacques Prévert describes how a cold North Wind carry the leaves away.
Et le vent du Nord les emporte
Dans la nuit froide de l’oubli
A French Translation
Ce n’est pas facile. L’amour ne peut être ressenti
Le vent d’automne c’est calme, la lune d’automne c’est brillante
Les feuilles qui tombent se rassemblent et se dispersent, un corbeau froid qui s’installe est surpris
Malade d’amour, qui sait quand nous nous reverrons ? Cette fois, cette nuit, insupportable
Viens mon amour, connais mon amour, cet amour fait mal
L’amour qui fait mal dure longtemps, et chaque instant n’a pas de fin
Si je savais que ma pensée pour toi pourrait être si emmêlée
Ne vaudrait-il pas mieux que nous ne nous soyons jamais rencontrés ?