Fog Poems: 69 / 500

Song Of Unending Sorrow.

Rating: 2.8

China's Emperor, craving beauty that might shake an empire,
Was on the throne for many years, searching, never finding,
Till a little child of the Yang clan, hardly even grown,
Bred in an inner chamber, with no one knowing her,
But with graces granted by heaven and not to be concealed,
At last one day was chosen for the imperial household.
If she but turned her head and smiled, there were cast a hundred spells,
And the powder and paint of the Six Palaces faded into nothing.
...It was early spring. They bathed her in the FlowerPure Pool,
Which warmed and smoothed the creamy-tinted crystal of her skin,
And, because of her languor, a maid was lifting her
When first the Emperor noticed her and chose her for his bride.
The cloud of her hair, petal of her cheek, gold ripples of her crown when she moved,
Were sheltered on spring evenings by warm hibiscus curtains;
But nights of spring were short and the sun arose too soon,
And the Emperor, from that time forth, forsook his early hearings
And lavished all his time on her with feasts and revelry,
His mistress of the spring, his despot of the night.
There were other ladies in his court, three thousand of rare beauty,
But his favours to three thousand were concentered in one body.
By the time she was dressed in her Golden Chamber, it would be almost evening;
And when tables were cleared in the Tower of Jade, she would loiter, slow with wine.
Her sisters and her brothers all were given titles;
And, because she so illumined and glorified her clan,
She brought to every father, every mother through the empire,
Happiness when a girl was born rather than a boy.
...High rose Li Palace, entering blue clouds,
And far and wide the breezes carried magical notes
Of soft song and slow dance, of string and bamboo music.
The Emperor's eyes could never gaze on her enough-
Till war-drums, booming from Yuyang, shocked the whole earth
And broke the tunes of The Rainbow Skirt and the Feathered Coat.
The Forbidden City, the nine-tiered palace, loomed in the dust
From thousands of horses and chariots headed southwest.
The imperial flag opened the way, now moving and now pausing- -
But thirty miles from the capital, beyond the western gate,
The men of the army stopped, not one of them would stir
Till under their horses' hoofs they might trample those moth- eyebrows....
Flowery hairpins fell to the ground, no one picked them up,
And a green and white jade hair-tassel and a yellowgold hair- bird.
The Emperor could not save her, he could only cover his face.
And later when he turned to look, the place of blood and tears
Was hidden in a yellow dust blown by a cold wind.
... At the cleft of the Dagger-Tower Trail they crisscrossed through a cloud-line
Under Omei Mountain. The last few came.
Flags and banners lost their colour in the fading sunlight....
But as waters of Shu are always green and its mountains always blue,
So changeless was His Majesty's love and deeper than the days.
He stared at the desolate moon from his temporary palace.
He heard bell-notes in the evening rain, cutting at his breast.
And when heaven and earth resumed their round and the dragon car faced home,
The Emperor clung to the spot and would not turn away
From the soil along the Mawei slope, under which was buried
That memory, that anguish. Where was her jade-white face?
Ruler and lords, when eyes would meet, wept upon their coats
As they rode, with loose rein, slowly eastward, back to the capital.
...The pools, the gardens, the palace, all were just as before,
The Lake Taiye hibiscus, the Weiyang Palace willows;
But a petal was like her face and a willow-leaf her eyebrow --
And what could he do but cry whenever he looked at them?
...Peach-trees and plum-trees blossomed, in the winds of spring;
Lakka-foliage fell to the ground, after autumn rains;
The Western and Southern Palaces were littered with late grasses,
And the steps were mounded with red leaves that no one swept away.
Her Pear-Garden Players became white-haired
And the eunuchs thin-eyebrowed in her Court of PepperTrees;
Over the throne flew fire-flies, while he brooded in the twilight.
He would lengthen the lamp-wick to its end and still could never sleep.
Bell and drum would slowly toll the dragging nighthours
And the River of Stars grow sharp in the sky, just before dawn,
And the porcelain mandarin-ducks on the roof grow thick with morning frost
And his covers of kingfisher-blue feel lonelier and colder
With the distance between life and death year after year;
And yet no beloved spirit ever visited his dreams.
...At Lingqiong lived a Taoist priest who was a guest of heaven,
Able to summon spirits by his concentrated mind.
And people were so moved by the Emperor's constant brooding
That they besought the Taoist priest to see if he could find her.
He opened his way in space and clove the ether like lightning,
Up to heaven, under the earth, looking everywhere.
Above, he searched the Green Void, below, the Yellow Spring;
But he failed, in either place, to find the one he looked for.
And then he heard accounts of an enchanted isle at sea,
A part of the intangible and incorporeal world,
With pavilions and fine towers in the five-coloured air,
And of exquisite immortals moving to and fro,
And of one among them-whom they called The Ever True-
With a face of snow and flowers resembling hers he sought.
So he went to the West Hall's gate of gold and knocked at the jasper door
And asked a girl, called Morsel-of-Jade, to tell The Doubly- Perfect.
And the lady, at news of an envoy from the Emperor of China,
Was startled out of dreams in her nine-flowered, canopy.
She pushed aside her pillow, dressed, shook away sleep,
And opened the pearly shade and then the silver screen.
Her cloudy hair-dress hung on one side because of her great haste,
And her flower-cap was loose when she came along the terrace,
While a light wind filled her cloak and fluttered with her motion
As though she danced The Rainbow Skirt and the Feathered Coat.
And the tear-drops drifting down her sad white face
Were like a rain in spring on the blossom of the pear.
But love glowed deep within her eyes when she bade him thank her liege,
Whose form and voice had been strange to her ever since their parting --
Since happiness had ended at the Court of the Bright Sun,
And moons and dawns had become long in Fairy-Mountain Palace.
But when she turned her face and looked down toward the earth
And tried to see the capital, there were only fog and dust.
So she took out, with emotion, the pledges he had given
And, through his envoy, sent him back a shell box and gold hairpin,
But kept one branch of the hairpin and one side of the box,
Breaking the gold of the hairpin, breaking the shell of the box;
"Our souls belong together," she said, " like this gold and this shell --
Somewhere, sometime, on earth or in heaven, we shall surely
And she sent him, by his messenger, a sentence reminding him
Of vows which had been known only to their two hearts:
"On the seventh day of the Seventh-month, in the Palace of Long Life,
We told each other secretly in the quiet midnight world
That we wished to fly in heaven, two birds with the wings of one,
And to grow together on the earth, two branches of one tree."
Earth endures, heaven endures; some time both shall end,
While this unending sorrow goes on and on for ever.

READ THIS POEM IN OTHER LANGUAGES
COMMENTS OF THE POEM
Susan Williams 16 January 2016

Yang Guifei (719—56) was a famously beautiful concubine during the Tang dynasty (618-906) . She was the concubine of the Tang emperor Xuanzong [685-762) . Of humble origins, she is said to have won the favor and passion of the emperor to the extent that he eventually began to neglect state affairs. She adopted An Lu-shan, a general of Turkic origin, as her son and helped him win power at court. A power struggle over control of the central government between An Lu-shan and Yang’s brother led to An’s rebellion in 755. Fleeing the capital before the rebels captured it, angry royal guards, who blamed Yang Guifei and her brother for the rebellion, forced Xuanzong to order their execution. The emperor soon abdicated.Yang Guifei’s story and her tragic end have been a favorite theme for Chinese poets and writers. http: //www.princeton.edu/~caddeau/A21/YangGuifei.html][ It is said that he wrote his poems in a deliberately plain style which may be so but I found them very rich in ornamental description and lush in sensual passages but not, I agree, hard to read. Legend has it that he read his poems out loud to an elderly peasant woman and if she didn't understand a line he would change it. There are some enchanting dramatic and musical productions of this poem on youtube that last anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour.

25 0 Reply
Kim Barney 16 January 2016

Thanks to Susan Williams for her informative comment. Enjoyable poem.

2 0 Reply
Kit Heart 10 June 2017

why is there no approbation on this no translator

1 0 Reply
Kit Heart 10 June 2017

I have one copy of this on my email from the past and as a person who has read translations of this and other chinese poems, often by waley as I assume this is I find it hard to fault what he did. The original can not be recontrived but the result is not without merit. I am glad this is here as my email copy is the only other I have. It is no where else on the web in this form

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Xing Hua 16 January 2016

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1 0 Reply
Kit Heart 15 January 2020

I think this translation was done by Witter Bynner from " Three hundred poems of the Tang dynasty"

0 0 Reply
Ross Curtin 28 April 2019

Beautiful - translation is unwieldy - but still powerful.

0 0 Reply
Keith McLennan 16 February 2019

A nice translation. The ninth line from the end presumably ends: " we shall surely meet again."

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Henry Tong 21 March 2018

One of the obstacles of the worldwide appreciation of Chinese poetry is that because of distinctive meters, rhymes, and symbolism, it is very hard to translate Yijing(??) (artistic conception) . I see it as part of my responsibility to really settle my mind for a better translation which expresses the utmost Chinese in Chinese poetry.

1 0 Reply
Henry Tong 21 March 2018

One of the obstacles of the worldwide appreciation of Chinese poetry is that because of distinctive meters, rhymes, and symbolism, it is very hard to translate Yijing(??) (artistic conception) . I see it as part of my responsibility to really settle my mind for a better translation which expresses the utmost Chinese in Chinese poetry.

0 0 Reply