An Incomparable Beauty
How Li Bai flattered a beautiful woman and first made his name at the imperial court. The beauty is Yang Guifei (楊貴妃), consort to the Emperor Xuanzong, whose life would tragically end. But our poet did not know that then.
[Note. Yushan – Jade mountain, home of the goddess of the West; Yaotai – Jade Tower, at Penglai, an isle of eternal summer, East of China, the legendary dwelling place of immortals.]
Clothes like clouds, a face like flowers,
A spring breeze brushes her window with bountiful dew.
If I don’t find her at the peak of Jade Mountain,
Then I will see her under the moon at Jade Tower.
Qīng Píng Diào (Sān Shǒu Qí Yī)
Yún xiǎng yīshang huā xiǎng róng, Chūnfēng fú kǎn lù huá nóng.
Ruòfēi qún yùshān tóu jiàn, Huì xiàng yáotái yuèxià féng.
Notes on Translation
An incomparable beauty, a woman compared to the clouds and the flowers, to a goddess and an immortal. “Flattery will get you everywhere” is a western idiom. It worked for Li Bai whose words pleased the emperor’s consort.
Li Bai was also famous as a musician. The inclusion of Diao (song) in the title, makes it likely the poem was sung, but the music is lost.
Qīng Píng (pure and fair) Diào (song)
Sān (three) Shǒu (first) Qí (such, that) Yī (one)
chunfeng 春風, literally “spring breeze.” Let the flowers blossom, the birds nest, let life begin anew.
yu 玉 , means both pure and jade; 瑤 yao also refers to jade.
yushan 玉山, Jade Mountain was the home of Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of the West.
yáotái 瑤臺, literally, jade tower; yuèxià 月下, under the moon
Literal translations are not always accurate. The amusing rhyming 清平 qing ping is one such example. Pure and fair is a good choice. Purity and Peace is chosen by East Asia Student. That too is fair. One thinks here of Romeo comparing Juliet to the sun and the moon (Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare). Li Bai’s clouds and flowers make a similar lovely picture.
Now for some movie stars…
First, compare our beauty to Xiwangmu, the goddess of the West, then add the name of a human immortal from the East, He Xiangu, the only female in the group of Chinese Immortals — high praise, indeed the highest. In legend, He Xiangu lived during the Tang dynasty and ascended into heaven on a cloud, or she lived in the mystical sea on Mount Penglai.
If you read along, or if you are familiar with LI Bai, the most famous poet of the Tang dynasty, you will know that fame is fleeting.
As for Yang Guifei, that too is another story …