Poems by Li Qingzhao (Li Ching-chao)
English Translations of all of her poetry (Ci)
"More Gracile Than Yellow Flowers..."
"More Gracile Than Yellow Flowers..."
I always remember the sunset
over the pavalion by the river.
So tipsy, we could not find our way home.
Our interest exhausted, the evening late,
we tried to turn the boat homeward.
By mistake, we entered deep within the lotus bed.
Row! Row the boat!
A flock of herons, frightened,
suddenly flew skyward.
Last night a sprinkling of rain,
a violent wind.
After a deep sleep, still not recovered
from the lingering effect of wine,
I inquired of the one rolling up the screen;
But the answer came: "The cherry-apple blossoms
are still the same."
"Oh, don't you know, don't you know?
The red must be getting thin,
while the green is becoming plump."
Lonely in my secluded chamber,
A thousand sorrows fill every inch
of my sensitive being.
Regretting that spring has so soon passed,
That rain drops have hastened the falling flowers,
I lean over the balustrade,
Weary and depressed.
Where is my beloved?
Only the fading grassland
stretches endlessly toward the horizon;
Anxiously I watch the road for your return.
Let not the deep cup be filled
with rich, amber-colored wine;
My mind was eased of sorrow
even before I become intoxicated.
Distant bells have already echoed
in the evening breeze.
My dream is broken
as the scent of incense vanishes.
Too small, the hairpin of the gold
loosens its hold of my tresses.
I awake to find myself blankly facing
the read flickering glow
of the candle*2
*1 See "pi han chin" in Tzu Yuan: According to Shu I Chi,
during the period of the Three Kindoms (221-265 a.d.),
Emporor Ming of Wei received an unusual bird bird as a
tribute from the Kingdom of Kun Ming. The bird spat grains
of gold, which were used to make hairpins for ladies in
the palace. Since the bird could not stand cold, Emporor
Ming ordered that a pavilion be built to keep it warm.
The pavilion was named Pi Han Tai or The Pavilion of
Warding Off Cold. The gold spat by the bird was thus
called Pi Han Chin or Gold of Warding Off Gold.
*2 The red glow of popping sparks from the wick has been
said to be an omen of happiness. Here the word "kung",
meaning blankly or vainly, is used to depict sadness,
giving a contrast to happiness.
My courtyard is small, windows idle,
spring is getting old.
Screens unrolled cast heavy shadows.
In my upper-story chamber, speechless,
I play on my jasper lute.
Clouds rising from distant mountains
hasten the fall of dusk.
Gentle wind and drizzling rain
cause a pervading gloom.
Pear blossoms can hardly keep from withering,
The Cold Food Festival,*1
a quiet and peaceful spring day.
From the jade burner rises the up-curling smoke
of the dying incense.
Dreams cam back to me as I slumbered
on the hill-shaped pillow which concealed
my hairpins with flowery ornaments.
Sea swallows have not returned;
people amuse themselves with the game
of vying green herbs.*2
Plum blooms are withered, willows bear catkins;
Twilight falls, light drops of rain
Wet the swing in the garden.
*1 A festival in the early third month by the
third Chinese calendar, roughly corresponding to
early April by the Gregorian calendar, when
fire is forbidden and only cold provisions are
*2 Tou tsao or the game of vying herbs (also
called tou pai tsao or vying hundred herbs) is
a game played in spring time when plants and
flowers are plentiful. Players vie with each other
in selecting the best plants or flowers with fancy
names, such as gentleman bamboo and lady-beauty
musa; Bodhisattva willow and Arhan pine; and
starlight jasper (a kind of myrtle with starlike
flowers) and moonbeam ruby (a kind of rose,
commonly known as monthly red); etc.
Saddened by the dying spring, I am too weary
to rearrange my hair.
Plum flowers, newly fallen, drift about the courtyard
in the evening wind.
The moon looks pale and light clouds float
to and fro.
Incense lies idle in the jade duck-shaped burner.
The cherry-red bed-curtain is drawn close,
concealing its tassels.
Can tung-hsi horn still ward off the cold?*
*See "tung hsi" in Tzu Yuan: Tung hsi is a kind
of rhinoceros horn with a hollow tube running
from one end to the other.
Soft breeses, mild sunshine,
sring is still young.
The sudden change to light apparel
brightened my spirit.
But upon awakening from slumber,
I felt the cilly air;
The plum flower withered in my hair.
Where can I call my native land?
Forget - I can not, except in wine
when I drown my care.
Incense was lighted when I went to sleep;
Though the embers are now cold,
the warmth of wine still holds.
The cry of returning wild geese has stopped;
evening clouds look azure.
Snow is falling outside the windows,
smoke from the chimney rises straight upward.
Under the candle-light glistens the phoenix hairpin,
On which the man-shaped ornament is light.*
The sounding horn announces the approach of daybreak;
Stars are driven back by the light of early dawn.
It is difficult to enjoy spring flowers.
The west wind is still too cold.
*The seventh day of the first moon by the Chinese lunar calendar was a
festival known as jen jih or human day. On this day women cut
human figures out of colored silk or paper and wore them in their hair.
These ornamental figures were called jen sheng.
It was far into the night when, intoxicated,
I took off my ornaments;
The plum flower withered in my hair.
Recovered from tipsiness,
the lingering smell of wine
broke my fond dream.
Before my dreaming soul could find
my way home.
All is quiet.
The moon lingers,
And the emerald screen hangs low.
I caress the withered flower,
Fondle the fragrant petals,
Trying to bring back the lost time.
The wind ceases; fallen flowers pile high.
Outside my screen, petals collect in heaps of red
This reminds me that after the blooming
of the cherry-apple tree.
It is time of lament the dying spring.
Singing and drinking have come to an end;
jade cups are empty;
Lamps are flickering.
Hardly able to bear the sorrows and regrets
of my dreams,
I hear the mournful cry of the cuckoo.
Year by year, in the snow,
I have often gathered plum flowers,
intoxicated with their beauty.
foundling them impudently
I got my robe wet with their lucid tears.
This year I have drifted to the corner
of the sea and the edge
of the horizon,
My temples has turned grey.
Judging by the gust of the evening wind,
There's hardly a chance that I will be able
enjoy the plum blossoms.
I ascent high on the sotried pavilion,
Below,mountains scatter in disorder;
The unclutivated plain extends
far in the light mist.
In the light mist,
Crows have returned to their mests;
The evening horm is heard in the dusk.
Burnt-out incense, left-over wine -
my melancholy heart!
[The evening wind](*1) hastens
The wu tong leaves fall. (*2)
The wu tong leaves fall,
Again the autumn becaomes beautiful,
Again the heart is lonesome.
*1 Two characters of the original text have been lost.
This writer took the liberty of filling in the words
"The evening wind" in the English translation.
*2 Wu tong is a variety of sterculia, an ornamental
tree with a tall, straight trunk and large palmated
Thousands of light flakes of crushed gold
for its blossoms,
And the trimmed jade for its layers of leaves,
This flower has the air of Scholar Yen Fu.
Plum flowers are too common;
Lilicas, too coarse, when compared with it.
Yes, it is penetrating frangence
drives away my fond dreams
of far away places.
As I recovered from illness,
my temples turned grey.
I lie down to rest and watch the waning moon
climb up my screen.
Sweet mace with tender tips, boiled in hot water,
Aromatic as tea.
Books and poetry are so dear to me
when I sit idle against my pillow.
The outdoor scene becomes fresh when rain falls.
All day long facing me lovingly
Is the sweat osmanthus.
Who planted the pa chiao tree under my window?
Its shades fill the courtyard;
Its shades fill the courtyard....
Leaf to leaf, heart to heart,
folding and unfolding,
It expresses boundless afftection.
Sad and broken-hearted, lying awake on my pillow,
late into the night
I hear the sound of rain.
It dips and splashes, cool and malancholy;
It dips and splashes, cool and malancholy ....
Lonely for my beloved, grief-stricken,
I cannot endure the mournful sound
Wind ceased, the dust is scented
with fallen flowers.
Though day is getting late, I am too weary
to attend my hair.
Things remain as ever, yet his is here no more,
and all is finished.
Fain wound I speak, but tar flow first.
They say that at the Twin Brooks
spring is still fiar.
I, too, wish to row a boat there.
But I am afraid that the little skiff
on the Twin Brooks
Could not bear the heavy load of my grief.
Light mists and heavy clouds,
melancholy the long dreay day,
In the golden cencer
the burning incense is dying away.
It is again time
for the lovely Double-Nith Festival;
The coolness of midnight
penetrates my screen of sheer silk
and chills my pillow of jade.
After drinking wine at twilight
under the chrysanthemum hedge,
My sleeves are perfumed
by the faint fragrance of the plants.
Oh, I cannot say it is not enchanting,
Only, when the west wind stirs the curtin,
I see that I am more gracile
than the yellow flowers.
In the sky, the River of Stars is moving.
In the world of mortals,
my curtains are hanging down.
It is getting chilly on my tear-soaked
pillow and mat.
I get up to losen my silk robe,
wondering how advanced is the night.
Tinyy the lotus seeds
hugged by petals emerald-colored.
Few the arrowroot leaves
in faded shades of gold.
The same old weather and the same old robe,
But my feeling s and thoughts
differ from those of byone times.
Over the lake the breeses come,
waves expand, hight and far.
Autumn approaches its end,
blossoms are scanty and fragrance rare.
Water lustrous, mountains bright -hued
show their affection and friendliness
to us mortals.
Words arenever sufficient to describe
The boundless beauty of nature.
Lotus seeds are ripe, leaves are old.
Dew drops, clear and cool,
have washed and duckweek flowers
and sprinkled the grass on the islets.
Heorns, resting on the sand,
do not turn their heads,
As if they, too, hate to see
People leave so soon.