Classics  
China    1084 - 1151   
Li Ch'ing Chao was born into a literary family and became an antiquarian, book collector, and calligrapher. Of her six original volumes of lyrics, only about 50 lyrics remain. In Stephen Owen's chapter, "The Snares of Memory," it concentrates on Li Ch'ing-Chao's Afterward to Records on Metal and Stone. He ... Read more
Li Ch'ing Chao was born into a literary family and became an antiquarian, book collector, and calligrapher. Of her six original volumes of lyrics, only about 50 lyrics remain. In Stephen Owen's chapter, "The Snares of Memory," it concentrates on Li Ch'ing-Chao's Afterward to Records on Metal and Stone. He ... Read more

Search. Search. Seek. Seek.
Cold. Cold. Clear. Clear.
Sorrow. Sorrow. Pain. Pain.
Hot flashes. Sudden chills.
Stabbing pains. Slow agonies.
I can find no peace.
I drink two cups, then three bowls,
Of clear wine until I can’t
Stand up against a gust of wind.
Wild geese fly over head.
They wrench my heart.
They were our friends in the old days.
Gold chrysanthemums litter
The ground, pile up, faded, dead.
This season I could not bear
To pick them. All alone,
Motionless at my window,
I watch the gathering shadows.
Fine rain sifts through the wu-t’ung trees,
And drips, drop by drop, through the dusk.
What can I ever do now?
How can I drive off this word —
Hopelessness?

To the tune of "Red Lips"

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 followers,
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.

A friend sends her perfumed carriage
And high-bred horses to fetch me.
I decline the invitation of
My old poetry and wine companion.

I remember the happy days in the lost capital.
We took our ease in the woman's quarters.
The Feast of Lanterns was elaborately celebrated -
Folded pendants, emerald hairpins, brocaded girdles,
New sashes - we competed
To see who was most smartly dressed.
Now I am withering away,
Wind-blown hair, frost temples.
I prefer to stay beyond the curtains,
And listen to talk and laughter
I can no longer share.

To the melody of "Ru Meng Lin"

Last night in the light rain as rough winds blew,
My drunken sleep left me no merrier.
I question one that raised the curtain, who
Replies: "The wild quince trees -- are as they were."
But no, but no!
Their rose is waning, and their green leaves grow.

To the tune of "Telling My Most Intimate Feelings"

When night comes,
I am so flushed with wine,
I undo my hair slowly:
a plum calyx is
stuck on a damaged branch.
I wake dazed when smoke
breaks my spring sleep.
The dream distant,
so very distant;
and it is quiet, so very quiet.
The moon spins and spins.
The kingfisher blinds are drawn;
and yet I rub the injured bud,
and yet I twist in my fingers this fragrance,
and yet I possess these moments of time!

To the melody of "Sheng Sheng Man"

I pine and peak
And questless seek
Groping and moping to linger and languish
Anon to wander and wonder, glare, stare and start
Flesh chill'd
Ghost thrilled
With grim dart
And keen canker of rankling anguish.

Sudden a gleam
Of fair weather felt
But fled as fast -- and the ice-cold season stays.
How hard to have these days
In rest or respite, peace or truce.
Sip upon sip of tasteless wine
Is of slight use
To counter or quell
The fierce lash of the evening blast.

The wild geese -- see --
Fly overhead
Ah, there's the grief
That's chief -- grief beyond bearing,
Wild fowl far faring
In days of old you sped
Bearing my true love's tender thoughts to me.
Lo, how my lawn is rife with golden blooms
Of bunched chrysanthemums --
Weary their heads they bow.
Who cares to pluck them now?
While I the casement keep
Lone, waiting, waiting for night
And, as the shades fall
Upon broad leaves, sparse rain-drops drip.
Ah, such a plight
Of grief -- grief unbearable, unthinkable.

Red lotus incense fades on
The jeweled curtain. Autumn
Comes again. Gently I open
My silk dress and float alone
On the orchid boat. Who can
Take a letter beyond the clouds?
Only the wild geese come back
And write their ideograms
On the sky under the full
Moon that floods the West Chamber.
Flowers, after their kind, flutter
And scatter. Water after
Its nature, when spilt, at last
Gathers again in one place.
Creatures of the same species
Long for each other. But we
Are far apart and I have
Grown learned in sorrow.
Nothing can make it dissolve
And go away. One moment,
It is on my eyebrows.
The next, it weighs on my heart.

Breeze soft, sun frail, spring still early.
In a new lined dress my heart was refreshed,
But when I rose from sleep I felt a chill.
I put plum blossoms in my hair.
Now they are withered.
Where is my homeland?
I forgot it only when drunk.
The sandal wood incense burned out while I slept.
Now the perfume has gone,
But the wine has not gone.

Our boat starts at night
from the beach of Yen Kuang.

Great ships sail only for profit
Only small boats come here because of your fame.
The passers-by are embarrassed by your virtue.
So in the night we steal by the place where you used to fish.

To the tune of "Rinsing Silk Stream"

Thousands of light flakes of crushed gold
for its blossoms,
Trimmed jade for its layers of leaves.
This flower has the air of scholar Yen Fu.
How brilliant!

Plum flowers are too common;
Lilacs too coarse when compared.
Yet, its penetrating fragrance
drives away my fond dreams
of far away places.
How merciless!

To the tune of "Wu Ling Spring"

Wind ceased, the dust is scented
with the fallen flowers.
Though day is getting late, I am too weary
to attend to my hair.
Things remain as ever, yet he is here no more,
and all is finished.
Fain would I speak, but tears flow first.

They say that at the Twin Brooks
spring is still fair.
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.

To the tune of "Rinsing Silk Stream"

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,
but droop.

Although I've studied poetry for thirty years
I try to keep my mouth shut and avoid reputation.
Now who is this nosy gentleman talking about my poetry
Like Yang Ching-chih
Who spoke of Hsiang Ssu everywhere he went.

To the tune "Courtyard Filled with Fragrance"

Fragrant grass beside the pond
green shade over the hall
a clear cold comes through
the window curtains
crescent moon beyond the golden bars
and a flute sounds
as if someone were coming
but alone on my mat with a cup
gazing sadly into nothingness
I want to call back
the blackberry flowers
that have fallen
though pear blossoms remain
for in that distant year
I came to love their fresh fragrance
scenting my sleeve
as we culled petals over the fire
when as far as the eye could see
were dragon boats on the river
graceful horses and gay carts
when I did not fear the mad winds
and violent rain
as we drank to good fortune
with warm blackberry wine
now I cannot conceive
how to retrieve that time.

This morning I dreamed I followed
Widely spaced bells, ringing in the wind,
And climbed through mists to rosy clouds.
I realized my destined affinity
With An Ch'i-sheng the ancient sage.
I met unexpectedly O Lu-hua
The heavenly maiden.

Together we saw lotus roots as big as boats.
Together we ate jujubes as huge as melons.
We were the guests of those on swaying lotus seats.
They spoke in splendid language,
Full of subtle meanings.
The argued with sharp words over paradoxes.
We drank tea brewed on living fire.

Although this might not help the Emperor to govern,
It is endless happiness.
The life of men could be like this.

Why did I have to return to my former home,
Wake up, dress, sit in meditation.
Cover my ears to shut out the disgusting racket.
My heart knows I can never see my dream come true.
At least I can remember
That world and sigh.

To the tune of "Rinsing Silk Stream"

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's horn still ward off the cold?

To the tune of "Like a Dream"

I always remember the sunset
over the pavilion 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
thin
rain,
gusty
wind.

Dense
sleep
doesn't
fade
a wine
hangover.

I'm talking
to her
who
rolled up
the curtains.

Are you
blind!
I
say.

By now
they're
fat
green
and skimpy
red.

To the tune of "Lamentation"

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 fragrance of the pink lotus
fails, the jade mat hints of autumn.
Softly I unfasten my silk cloak,
Who is sending a letter from
among the clouds?
When the swan message returns,
the balcony is flooded with moonlight.

The blossoms drift on, the water flows.
There is the same yearning of the heart,
But it abides in two places.
There is no way to drive away this yearning:
Driven from the eyebrows,
It enters the heart.

 
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