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.
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
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
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?