Spring Thoughts – Li Bai

Draft – simple thought, tough poem to tackle, let me come back and get it right.

delphinium in the field

Spring Thoughts

In fields, Delphinium blossoms like blue silk threads
In Qin, it is said, emerald green mulberry leaves hang low
Somewhere, a husband thinks of returning home
To his saddened wife who
Feels the spring breeze strange
As it slips unseen through her silk curtains

春思

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

Yàn cǎo rú bì sī
Qín sāng dī lǜ zhī
Dāng jūn huái guī rì
Shì qiè duàn cháng shí
Chūn fēng bù xiāng shí
Hé shì rù luó wéi

My Thoughts on Spring Thoughts

Spring is the time to make war. It is also the time when flowers blossom in far-flung fields.

Back home in Qin, the ancient Chinese homeland, a wife longs for her absent husband. Low hanging mulberry leaves, upon which the silk worms feast, have recently unfolded in colors of emerald green, symbolizing sadness. A western wind slips though the wife’s silk curtains and she senses a strange emotion with the breeze that is felt but not seen.

In this short poem about the separation of husband and wife, Li Bai has managed to repeat the “shi” sound five times in six lines. Sadly, these homophonic puns do not translate well into English. Now, add the additional rhymes of “bi”, “di”, “gui”, “ri”, “qie”, and “he”.

This cornucopia of rhymes makes for a poem, whose meaning conveys, but whose beauty is obscured in translation:(

 

delphinium in the field

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Spring Night, I hear a flute – Li Bai

Draft…

flute-silver

Spring Night, I Hear the Flute

From whose house does the sound of a jade flute flies
Scattered by the Spring breeze filling Luoyang?
In the middle of the night I hear the willow unfolding
Who does not feel these old garden feelings

In 725 or thereabouts, while in his mid-twenties, Li Bai left his home in Sichuan, sailing down the Yangtze River, beginning his wandering days. He returned back up river, married, and briefly settled in before resuming his wanderings. In this first year, like Buddha , he gave up much of his wealth to his friends. Five years later, he found himself at Chang’an, the capital. He tried to obtain a position at the court, failed, and sailed on to Luoyang where we may assume he wrote this poem, before going back home to Sichuan.

Li Bai would eventually achieve much fame. He would also become acquainted with the poet Du Fu who would later include Li Bai in his list of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup.

The poem

Poems always raise questions.

The first is the significance of a flute that is jade, and not a simple one of bamboo.

I have no real answer for this other than the phonetic similarity of the compound characters 飞 声and “fei-sheng”. This is one of the Taoist steps to attain immortality,  (ascending to heaven in daylight). It may also mean to make a name famous. All cultures believe music is heavenly inspired. Li Bai is perhaps, just perhaps, saying that the sound of the flute is heavenly sent, and carrying it on the spring breeze might confirm this.

Question two – what’s up with the unfolding willow? To part from a willow tree, to stand under a willow tree is a common theme in Chinese poetry. The willow is also symbolic, one symbol being solitude, another the return of spring.

Question three, those old garden feelings.

There I am at a complete loss.

Not much is said of Li Bai’s marriage to his wife. They had a child, then another, he left her, she could hardly make ends meet, then died, and the children went to live with someone else.  More to the story elsewhere.

French Translation of Spring Night, I Hear a Flute

Printemps, j’entends la flûte

Ou est la maison de qui sons la flute
Dispersé par la brise de printemps s’étend sur Luoyang?
Dans la nuit j’entends le saule se dérouler
Qui ne ressent aucune ces sentiments de jardin

Original Chinese

春 夜 洛 城 闻 笛

谁 家 玉 笛 暗 飞 声
散 入 春 风 满 洛 城
此 夜 曲 中 闻 折 柳
何 人 不 起 故 园 情

Pinyin

Shei jia yu di an fei sheng
San ru chun feng man luocheng
Ci ye qu zhong wen she liu
He ren bu qi gu yuan qing?

Grasses

Living in the Great Plains in the state of Kansas, it is appropriate that I tackle the poem Grasses (草) by Tang poet Bai Juyi (白 居 易 ).  The English translation is followed by French and then the original Chinese.

Grasses

From year to year, the withered grass
In all its glory lies on the plain
Wildfires burn but do not exhaust as
Spring wind blows and once more it’s green

A distant fragrance travels the ancient road
And like a bright emerald joins the city wall
Dear friend, once again you are gone
And the lush grass is full of farewell

French

Les Herbes

Année après année,  l’herbe fanée
Dans toute sa splendeur se reste sur la plaine
Furieux les feux brûlent mais n’épuisent pas
Le vent du printemps souffle et une fois de plus en vert

Un parfum lointain parcourt l’ancienne route
Et comme une émeraude brillante rejoint le mur de ville
Cher ami, encore une fois vous êtes parti
Et l’herbe luxuriante est pleine d’adieux

Chinese

离离原上草 一岁一枯荣
野火烧不尽 春风吹又生

远芳侵古道 晴翠接荒城
又送王孙去 萋萋满别情

Bai Juyi

Bai Juyi (772 – 846) described himself as a self made man, who studied hard to pass the imperial exams, gave honor to his parents, then duty and service to the imperial family, and care and love to his wife and child.

During his long career, he was the governor of three Chinese provinces. His postings included governor of Zhongzhou (818), Hangzhou (822), and, later, Suzhou. In 829 he was appointed mayor of Luoyang, the eastern capital, retiring in 842.

His insightful observations include this one: “If a Fleeting World is but a long, long dream, it matters not whether one is old or young.” At the end of spring.

Notes

I translate wangsun (王孙), the Chinese characters from the last line of the poem as dear friend. Much time could be spent interpreting these characters. They also represent a surname, a plant that tastes somewhat bitter, and literally, sun king, or grandson of the king.

 

sparrow-crop