Poems by Li Qingzhao (Li Ching-chao)

English Translations of all of her poetry (Ci)

"More Gracile Than Yellow Flowers..."

Chinese text | [Return to Poetry Page] | portrait of Poetess

Translation by Lucy Chao Ho, Seton Hall University

To the Tune of LIKE A DREAM

	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.
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To the Tune of LIKE A DREAM

	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."
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To the Tune of TO ROUGE THE 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 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.
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	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
	   of warding-of-cold*1
	      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.

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	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.
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	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.
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	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. 

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	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.      
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	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.

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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.
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	The wind ceases; fallen flowers pile high.

	Outside my screen, petals collect in heaps of red
	   and snow-white.

	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.

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To the Tune of SONG OF PEACE
	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.

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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 

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To the Tune of LIKE

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	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.
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To the Tune of LIKE

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To the Tune of LIKE

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To the Tune of LIKE

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Poems - English Translation | China the Beautiful