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Shengshengman: Yin Dirge for Fairy Flute

Li Qingzhao


Searching, seeking
Quiet solitude.
The sorrow, pain and sadness of a time
When warmth one moment turns to cold the next
Is hardest of all grief to overcome.

How could a few small cups of weakest wine
Have brought him that distress at end of day?

Wild geese fly past
A freshly wounded heart.

The fact is that we knew each other once;
Chrysanthemums then carpeted the world.

Grieving from a tragic loss like this
Who could ever pick them once again?

At my window
All alone and somehow cast in black
From wutong tree combined with misty rain
A steady drizzle patters unto dusk.

This sequence of events!
Can words like sadness really say it all?



Rumengling: Curiosity

Li Qingzhao


Last night through squalls of rain and gusty wind
In heavy sleep without my cup of wine
I dreamt I asked a person of the scrolls
About the cherry-apples of their time.

Doest thou know?
Doest thou not?

The answer, only "Young, old, plump and slim."


A Fisherman's Tale

Li Qingzhao


Heaven made the boiling clouds from rosey dawn unfurl*
The Milky Way desired to set a thousand sails awhirl.
As if in dream my soul went to the Palace of the Lord.
And I heard Heaven's words
Politely asking where I had been bound.
The story long, I sigh "sunset", the sound
Of expert mocking rhyme fills me with fright.
Then up I go with ocean-spanning kite
The wind rests
Having swept my fairy boat to the Three Peaks**.

*"Red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky at morning, sailor take warning" goes the age-old rhyme of the sea in English.

**Probably the San Shan refered to in a poem by Li Bo, three peaks above a cliff on the Yangzi, just southwest of Nanjing, which blocked the setting sun. I think this refers to a storm over the lower Yangzi, not the Bohai. The Lord of Heaven, probably the Jade Emperor, not the Sea Lord. The biography of Bian Que (Shi Ji 105) has the quote "Wo zhi di suo shen le", "I went to the Lord of Heaven's Palace and felt such joy", regarding Zhao Jianzi's near-death experience. Also, there is a similar quote in Zhou Mu Wang's Dream in Liezi.(trans)



To the tune of Fenghuangtaishang Que Xiao: Contemplating A Journey

Li Qingzhao


Incense in my golden lion* cold
Quilt atoss with scarlet sea of waves
I lazily awaken, comb my hair.
Treasured mirror full of ashen dust
Curtain lifted for the morning sun.
Afraid to suffer parting's bitter pain
Much I have to say but yet refrain.
I start the new year frail, weak and thin
Not on account of excess drink or from
The sorrow and the worries of autumn.
And yet tomorrow morning I depart
How ever many times I cross that pass
It's just as difficult as at the first.
Recalling how remote that Wuling range
Our world all hid behind the distant smoke.
A nearby brook before my dying eyes
Such worry where my eyes will finally close
Adds yet another layer to my woes!

*Golden Lion: a small golden incense burner. (trans)



Translation by Nathan Sturman

Note: Li Qingzhao (Li Ch'ing-chao), (1084-1151?) was the most outstanding poetess of the Song period. She was married to the famed scholar, archaeologist Zhao Mingcheng (Chao Ming-ch'eng), (1081-1129) until his untimely death during the couple's flight from Kaifeng and wandering as refugees at the conclusion of the Northern Song.


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