Ye Yu Ji Bei
Jun wen gui qi wei you qi
Ba shan ye yu zhang qui chi
He dang gong jian xi chuang zhu
Que hua ba shan ui ye shi
Night rain, sent north
Lord, you ask when I’m coming home, I do not know
Ba Mountain, night rains swell autumn ponds.
When shall we again trim wicks by the western window
And talk together while rain falls on Ba mountain?
The 45 years of Li-Shangyin’s life (c. 813–858) covered the reign of six emperors during the tumultuous decline of the Tang dynasty. Li was born in what is now Henan province in central China. The capital of the Tang dynasty, in present day Shaanxi province, was Chang’an (a name which means “perpetual peace”) . The Ba mountains of which Li-Shangyin writes are in the mountainous Sichuan province to the south and west of both Henan and Shaanxi. During the mid-8th century An Lushan Rebellion, it was the refuge of the Tang dynasty. It often rains at night in late spring and early summer, thus the reference to Night rain on Ba Mountain.
To whom did Li-Shangyin write the poem?
Li-Shangyin begins the first line with the character for Lord or Monarch (Jun),
so, we may assume he is writing to his overlord. That takes the steam out of the poetry for some who thought he was sending thoughts home to his wife or a recently dear departed friend.
The practice of trimming the wick is a means to reduce soot and prolong the life of the candle. Wicks are typically cut to one eighth of an inch, which extends the life of the candle by a factor of ten to one. Frugal yes, but also a means of prolonging a conversation.
Sent North in Night Rain
The poem is known by many names, but the one that best captures the spirit of the author is the ambiguous “Sent North in Night Rain”. The poem twice identifies “Ba shan” which is clearly Ba Mountain.
In the poem, the Chinese character for mountain is:
Translation are inherently subject to misinterpretation and Li Shangyin’s Night rain letter sent north is no exception. This could be a post, a letter, even a thought. We don’t know. From classical Chinese characters to simplified characters, then into the Roman alphabet is three steps distant from the author. Capturing the essence of the author’s meaning from the four lines of seven characters is no easy task. That is a total of 28 characters.
There is no way in English to express the idea in 28 words. One must even take liberties with the title which is only four characters.
The best translation of the Chinese
comes from eastasiastudent.net. It looks like Hugh Grigg deserves the credit.
From the title of the poem, I can pick out the last character “north”.
The first character is either night or evening.
The second character in the title is for rain.
The third character
is a verb and variously may mean, “mail” or “send” or “post by mail”.