Spring Again — 2023

Chang’an, 740s

Li Bai, the Tang dynasty’s new, young Rock Star poet, is at the imperial court in Chang’an, writing poems to please the Emperor Xuanzong and his concubine, the lovely Yang Guifei.
An earlier translation, Spring Thoughts.

In Spring
In Yan the grass is thin as silk and blue,
In Qin the mulberry bows down with green.
My Lord, you cherish coming home, and
Your lover’s heart is broken at this hour.
Oh, Spring breeze, you’re not my friend,
Why part the curtains to my bed?

Li Bai (701-762)

燕草如碧絲, 秦桑低綠枝
當君懷歸日, 是妾斷腸時
春風不相識, 何事入羅幃

Chūn sī
Yàn cǎo rú bì sī, qín sāng dī lǜ zhī.
Dāng jūn huái guī rì, shì qiè duàncháng shí.
Chūnfēng bù xiāngshí, héshì rù luó wéi.

李白, Lǐ Bái

Spring is not my friend

Notes on translation.

Here in Middle America, the middle of March, Spring is in the air. The crocus and daffodil are in bloom. The birds are singing. The grass is turning green. Over twelve hundred years have passed since Li Bai composed this popular poem.

And wars are still separating lovers from each other.

Chunsi, literally “thoughts of Spring,” “thinking of Spring,” and anything akin to Spring on my mind. Tennyson would repeat the mood a thousand years later with “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Li Bai gives us the female counterpoint.

Yan and Qin are references to two ancient States in China. A metaphor for north and south. Yan is the more remote northern State. Qin, eventually became China.

Qie, a concubine. In the Tang dynasty, a concubine was a female who lived with a man although not married, similar to a mistress in Western cultures.

Xiangshi, literally to be acquainted, i.e. friends. Héshì, what’s up with this? Spring (chun ) is usually the time when armies began campaigns against the enemy. Thus, it is no friend to lovers, nor is the breeze (chunfeng 春風 ) that stirs the lovers’ memories of each other.

Dating a poem is not an easy matter, but there are a couple of clues. The inclusion of qie (concubine) in the third line would have pleased Yang Guifei, concubine to the Emperor Xuanzong. In the 740s, Li Bai appeared at the imperial court and wrote several glowing poems about Yang Guifei. However, Li Bai’s fondness for wine and his arrogant behavior at court soon had him packing. Second, the poem references Yan and Qin. Qin representing the Tang dynasty, i.e. China, and Yan, a foe in the northeast. Later troubles erupted on China’s northern and northwestern frontier during the An Lushan Rebellion. The light tone of the poem also suggests an earlier work as opposed to a later one.

Chūnfēng bù xiāngshí,

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