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Untitled III - Li Shangyin

weather: mostly cloudy
outside: 18°C
mood: distracted

xiāng

jiàn

shí

nán

bié


nán
 

dōng

fēng



bǎi

huā

cán
 

chūn

cán

dào



fāng

jìn
 



chéng

huī

lèi

shǐ

gān
 
 

xiǎo

jìng

dàn

chóu

yún

bìn

gǎi
 


yín

yìng

jué

yuè

guāng

hán
 

péng

lái




duō

 

qīng

niǎo

yīn

qín

wéi

tàn

kàn
 
— 李商隱

'Twas long before I met her, but longer since we parted,
The east wind has arisen and a hundred flowers are gone.
The silk worms of spring will weave until they die,
And every night the candles will weep their wicks away.

In the mirror, each sorrowful dawn, she sees her tresses grey,
Yet she dares the chill of moonlight with her evening song.
It is not so very far to her Enchanted Mountain
O blue-birds, be listening. Bring me what she says.

                                                                  — Li Shangyin

*                    *                    *

I must've been 11 years old when I first heard this. It wasn't for Chinese school, so I picked it up like THAT. =) I've since found that Li Shangyin is one of my favorite T'ang poets. Li Bai has the most beautiful, symbolic, imagery- and connotation-rich verses. But Li Shangyin really captures sorrow and loneliness well. This particular poem is the third of several untitled verses.

A lot of these poems, like this one and The Ballad of Mulan, I only know in Cantonese because that's what I grew up with =) What makes Li Shangyin's Untitled III intriguing to me is that it was the first time I learned of the poetic pronunciation of , the verb "to die". In speech, it's pronounced "say" with a rising tone. But in recital, it's always pronounced "see" with a rising tone. You'd most likely be corrected if you said "say" in 《春蠶到絲方盡》 (the fourth character of line 3 in the first stanza). I was. And I was always corrected in The Ballad of Mulan《將軍百戰.

And I still don't understand why we make that distinction, but we do. Certainly, in some cases, it's done for assonance, but I get the feeling it's just supposed to sound better or euphemized. But however you say it, it means "to die" and everyone knows it. =S Maybe there's another reason I don't know about. There's no equivalent difference in Mandarin though.

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Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
lovesroses
Jun. 9th, 2004 06:43 pm (UTC)
The peom is beautiful.
bride
Jun. 9th, 2004 10:20 pm (UTC)
It is, even if it's a bit angsty and piney =)
bokane
Jun. 10th, 2004 02:34 am (UTC)
I like Li Shangyin's stuff because it's angsty and piney.

Anyway, thought you might be interested to see how A. C. Graham translates the poem:

For ever hard to meet, and as hard to part,
Each flower spoils in the failing East wind.
Spring's silkworms wind till death their heart's threads:
The wick of the candle turns to ash before its tears dry.
Morning mirror's only care, a change in her cloudy temples:
Saying over a poem in the night, does she sense the chill in the moonbeams?
Not far, from here to Fairy Hill.
Bluebird, be quick now, spy me out the road.
bokane
Jun. 10th, 2004 02:53 am (UTC)
And here's my shot at a translation. (I've been fooling around with translations lately, mostly Bai Juyi.)

Hard when we met, and harder when we left;
The East Wind has no strength, the flowers fade.
Spring silkworms spin their threads until their deaths,
And candles burn to ash, their tears undried.

In glass at dawn, she sees her tresses grey;
At night, she sings to challenge moonlight's chill.
From here to Paradise it's not so far --
Bluebirds, look lively. Find the way for me.
bride
Jun. 10th, 2004 09:24 am (UTC)
In glass at dawn, she sees her tresses grey;

Oh, good one! I like that. =)

I love reading translations. It's so amazing to see something THAT SPOT ON in terms of using the right terminology with the right sentiment and then getting the metre on top of that.
ex_sweetfer
Jun. 10th, 2004 06:57 am (UTC)
Yes it is a pretty poem. Please post more!
bride
Jun. 10th, 2004 09:45 am (UTC)
Thanks =) Oh, the pressure! =)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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