A Tall Tower in the Northwest

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Music was an important part of life in ancient China. It was the the most popular form of entertainment, and for some men and especially women it was their profession. In Nineteen Old Poems (Gushi Shijiu Shou, 古诗十九首), a selection of anonymous poetry from Eastern Han Dynasty (25~220 BCE), one of the most common topics is music and singers. There are descriptions of singing and dancing, of the emotions stirred by music and banquet, of the experience of listening to a performer. Chinese musical aesthetic tradition hails the combination of those who where able to produce sorrow through their performances and the “knowing listeners” (zhiyin, 知音)– those in whom this sorrow arose. It is the shedding of tears that is valued, not just the music one hears.

A Tall Tower in the Northwest

In northwest there is a tower proud;
It stands as high as floating cloud.
Its curtained lattice window flares
Between the eaves and flights of stairs.
Music from there comes to my ear,
Its sound so sad,its tune so drear.
Who could compose such doleful song
But one whose secret grief’s life-long?
Sad music rises with the breeze;
The middle tune wafts ill at ease.
It’s followed the by three refrains;
At last indignant,it complains.
For the musician out of view,
I sigh that connoisseurs are few.
I would become a crane to sing
With her while flying wing to wing.

古诗十九首其五

西北有高楼,上与浮云齐。
交疏结绮窗,阿阁三重阶。
上有弦歌声,音响一何悲!
谁能为此曲,无乃杞梁妻。
清商随风发,中曲正徘徊。
一弹再三叹,慷慨有余哀。
不惜歌者苦,但伤知音稀。
愿为双鸿鹄,奋翅起高飞。

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The Sight of Father’s Back

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The Sight of Father’s Back

Zhu Ziqing

It is more than two years since I last saw father, and what I can never forget is the sight of his back. Misfortunes never come singly. In the winter of more than two years ago, grandma died and father lost his job. I left Beijing for Xuzhou to join father in hastening home to attend grandma’s funeral. When I met father in Xuzhou, the sight of the disorderly mess in his courtyard and the thought of grandma started tears trickling down my cheeks. Father said, “Now that things’ve come to such a pass, it’s no use crying. Fortunately, Heaven always leaves one a way out.”

After arriving home in Yangzhou, father paid off debts by selling or pawning things. He also borrowed money to meet the funeral expenses. Between grandma’s funeral and father’s unemployment, our family was then in reduced circumstances. After the funeral was over, father was to go to Nanjing to look for a job and I was to return to Beijing to study, so we started out together.

I spent the first day in Nanjing strolling about with some friends at their invitation, and was ferrying across the Yangtse River to Pukou the next morning and thence taking a train for Beijing on the afternoon of the same day. Father said he was too busy to go and see me off at the railway station, but would ask a hotel waiter that he knew to accompany me there instead. He urged the waiter again and again to take good care of me, but still did not quite trust him. He hesitated for quite a while about what to do. As a matter of fact, nothing would matter at all because I was then twenty and had already traveled on the Beijing-Pukou Railway a couple of times. After some wavering, he finally decided that he himself would accompany me to the station. I repeatedly tried to talk him out of it, but he only said, “Never mind! It won’t do to trust guys like those hotel boys!”

We entered the railway station after crossing the River. While I was at the booking office buying a ticket, father saw to my luggage. There was quite a bit of luggage and he had to bargain with the porter over the fee. I was then such a smart aleck that I frowned upon the way father was haggling and on the verge of chipping in a few words when the bargain was finally clinched. Getting on the train with me, he picked me a seat close to the carriage door. I spread on the seat the brownish fur lined overcoat he had got tailor made for me. He told me to be watchful on the way and be careful not to catch cold at night. He also asked the train attendants to take good care of me. I sniggered at father for being so impractical, for it was utterly useless to entrust me to those attendants, who cared for nothing but money. Besides, it was certainly no problem for a person of my age to look after himself. Oh, when I come to think of it, I can see how smarty I was in those days!

I said, “Dad, you might leave now.” But he looked out of the window and said, “I’m going to buy you some tangerines. You just stay here. Don’ t move around.” I caught sight of several vendors waiting for customers outside the railings beyond a platform. But to reach that platform would require crossing the railway track and doing some climbing up and down. That would be a strenuous job for father, who was fat. I wanted to do all that myself, but he stopped me, so I could do nothing but let him go. I watched him hobble towards the railway track in his black skullcap, black cloth mandarin jacket and dark blue cotton-padded cloth long gown. He had little trouble climbing down the railway track, but it was a lot more difficult for him to climb up that platform after crossing the railway track. His hands held onto the upper part of the platform, his legs huddled up and his corpulent body tipped slightly towards the left, obviously making an enormous exertion. While I was watching him from behind, tears gushed from my eyes. I quickly wiped them away lest he or others should catch me crying. The next moment when I looked out of the window again, father was already on the way back, holding bright red tangerines in both hands. In crossing the railway track, he first put the tangerines on the ground, climbed down slowly and then picked them up again. When he came near the train, I hurried out to help him by the hand. After boarding the train with me, he laid all the tangerines on my overcoat, and patting the dirt off his clothes, he looked somewhat relieved and said after a while, “I must be going now. Don’t forget to write me from Beijing” I gazed after his back retreating out of the carriage. After a few steps, he looked back at me and said, “Go back to your seat. Don’t leave your things alone.” I, however, did not go back to my seat until his figure was lost among crowds of people hurrying to and fro and no longer visible. My eyes were again wet with tears.

In recent years, both father and I have been living an unsettled life, and the circumstances of our family going from bad to worse. Father left home to seek a livelihood when young and did achieve quite a few things all on his own. To think that he should now be so downcast in old age! The discouraging state of affairs filled him with an uncontrollable feeling of deep sorrow, and his pent-up emotion had to find a vent. That is why even mere domestic trivialities would often make him angry, and meanwhile he became less and less nice with me. However, the separation of the last two years has made him more forgiving towards me. He keeps thinking about me and my son. After I arrived in Beijing, he wrote me a letter, in which he says, “I’m all right except for a severe pain in my arm. I even have trouble using chopsticks or writing brushes. Perhaps it won’t be long now before I depart this life. “Through the glistening tears which these words had brought to my eyes I again saw the back of father’s corpulent form in the dark blue cotton-padded cloth long gown and the black cloth mandarin jacket. Oh, how I long to see him again!

October 1925
Beijing

背影

朱自清

我与父亲不相见已二年余了,我最不能忘记的是他的背影。那年冬天,祖母死了,父亲的差使也交卸了,正是祸不单行的日子,我从北京到徐州,打算跟着父亲奔丧回家。到徐州见着父亲,看见满院狼藉的东西,又想起祖母,不禁簌簌地流下眼泪。父亲说,“事已如此,不必难过,好在天无绝人之路!”
回家变卖典质,父亲还了亏空;又借钱办了丧事。这些日子,家中光景很是惨淡,一半为了丧事,一半为了父亲赋闲。丧事完毕,父亲要到南京谋事,我也要回北京念书,我们便同行。
到南京时,有朋友约去游逛,勾留了一日;第二日上午便须渡江到浦口,下午上车北去。父亲因为事忙,本已说定不送我,叫旅馆里一个熟识的茶房陪我同去。他再三嘱咐茶房,甚是仔细。但他终于不放心,怕茶房不妥帖;颇踌躇了一会。其实我那年已二十岁,北京已来往过两三次,是没有甚么要紧的了。他踌躇了一会,终于决定还是自己送我去。我两三回劝他不必去;他只说,“不要紧,他们去不好!”
我们过了江,进了车站。我买票,他忙着照看行李。行李太多了,得向脚夫行些小费,才可过去。他便又忙着和他们讲价钱。我那时真是聪明过分,总觉他说话不大漂亮,非自己插嘴不可。但他终于讲定了价钱;就送我上车。他给我拣定了靠车门的一张椅子;我将他给我做的紫毛大衣铺好坐位。他嘱我路上小心,夜里警醒些,不要受凉。又嘱托茶房好好照应我。我心里暗笑他的迂;他们只认得钱,托他们直是白托!而且我这样大年纪的人,难道还不能料理自己么?唉,我现在想想,那时真是太聪明了!
我说道,“爸爸,你走吧。”他望车外看了看,说,“我买几个橘子去。你就在此地,不要走动。”我看那边月台的栅栏外有几个卖东西的等着顾客。走到那边月台,须穿过铁道,须跳下去又爬上去。父亲是一个胖子,走过去自然要费事些。我本来要去的,他不肯,只好让他去。我看见他戴着黑布小帽,穿着黑布大马褂,深青布棉袍,蹒跚地走到铁道边,慢慢探身下去,尚不大难。可是他穿过铁道,要爬上那边月台,就不容易了。他用两手攀着上面,两脚再向上缩;他肥胖的身子向左微倾,显出努力的样子。这时我看见他的背影,我的泪很快地流下来了。我赶紧拭干了泪,怕他看见,也怕别人看见。我再向外看时,他已抱了朱红的橘子望回走了。过铁道时,他先将橘子散放在地上,自己慢慢爬下,再抱起橘子走。到这边时,我赶紧去搀他。他和我走到车上,将橘子一股脑儿放在我的皮大衣上。于是扑扑衣上的泥土,心里很轻松似的,过一会说,“我走了;到那边来信!”我望着他走出去。他走了几步,回过头看见我,说,“进去吧,里边没人。”等他的背影混入来来往往的人里,再找不着了,我便进来坐下,我的眼泪又来了。
近几年来,父亲和我都是东奔西走,家中光景是一日不如一日。他少年出外谋生,独力支持,做了许多大事。那知老境却如此颓唐!他触目伤怀,自然情不能自已。情郁于中,自然要发之于外;家庭琐屑便往往触他之怒。他待我渐渐不同往日。但最近两年的不见,他终于忘却我的不好,只是惦记着我,惦记着我的儿子。我北来后,他写了一信给我,信中说道,“我身体平安,惟膀子疼痛利害,举箸提笔,诸多不便,大约大去之期不远矣。”我读到此处,在晶莹的泪光中,又看见那肥胖的,青布棉袍,黑布马褂的背影。唉!我不知何时再能与他相见!

1925年10月在北京。

source:  Zhang Peiji, (1999) “Selected Modern Chinese Prose Writings”, Shanghai Foreign Languages Education Press.

Listening to the Rain

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    Beginning in Tang Dynasty (618~907), new music from Central Asia began entering China and soon became all the rage at the cosmopolitan Tang court and in Tang urban culture. From the lyrics set to this so-called banquet music (言乐, yanyue), there arose a new poetic genre, the ci (词), “song lyric”. The ci poems were written into hundreds of tune patterns, each of which strictly determined by the number of characters per line, the placement of rhymes, and the position of tones. Originally the ci were actually sung to these tunes, but eventually the tunes themselves were lost, and all that remained were the hundreds of ci patterns (词牌 cipai) with their many variations. To this day, one speaks of “filling in the words” to a song lyric (填词, tian ci) according to the matrix associated with its tune title.

This genre developed into a major alternative to traditional shi (诗) poetry during the Song Dynasty, when it is traditionally thought to have reached its height. In the famous ci poem “The Beautiful Lady Yu”, Southern Song Dynasty (1127~1279) poet Jiang Jie (c.1245~1310) tells his life story. The poem, which is commonly known as “Listening to the Rain” (听雨 Ting Yu),  poignantly and powerfully calls attention to the different emotions at stages of the poet’s life, set against the sameness of nature. While nature seems to eternally repeat itself in a predictable way, human life can never really repeat itself in a predictable way. Human life can never really repeat itself without noticeable change, not even in such a seemingly innocuous act as listening to the rain. In fact, it is precisely the sameness of nature and the seeming sameness of the poet’s habit of listening to the rain that trigger his deepest pathos about the vicissitudes of life.

English translation by Xu Yuanchong

The Beautiful Lady Yu

Jiang Jie

While young, I listened to the rain in house of song.
Beside a candle red,
In silken-curtained bed.

In prime of life I heard the rain on river long
Beneath the cloud where wailed wiled wild geese
In western breeze.

Now that I listen to the rain in temple’s cell,
My hair bespeckled well.
Men meet and part with joy and sorrow.
Let raindrops drip until the morrow!

English translation by Joseph Needham

The Beautiful Lady Yu

Jiang Jie

As a young man, listening to the girls in the tower,
I heard the sound of the rain,
While the red candle burned dim in the damp air.

In middle age, traveling by boat on a river,
I listened to the rain falling, falling:
The river was wide and clouds drifted above;
I heard the solitary cry of a teal borne on the west wind.

And now in a cloister cell I hear the rain again,
My hair is grey and sparse;
Sadness, and happiness, separation and reunion, all seem one,
They move me no more.
Let the rain drop all night on the deserted pavement
Till the day dawns.

Original text in Simplified Chinese

虞美人

蒋捷

少年听雨歌楼上,红烛昏罗帐。壮年听雨客舟中,江阔云低,断雁叫西风。

而今听雨僧庐下,鬓已星星也。悲欢离合总无情,一任阶前,点滴到天明。

sources:

Xu Yuanchong. (2007). Three hundred Ci of the Song Dynasty. China Translation and Publishing Company.

Cecile Chu-chin Sun. (2011). The Poetics of Repetition in English and Chinese Lyric Poetry. University of Chicago Press.

Zong-qi Cai. (2013). How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology. Columbia University Press.

Song of the Conscripts

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Chinese literary critics have honored Du Fu (712~770) as the “Poet Historian” since Northern Song Dynasty (960~1127). The most directly historical of Du Fu’s poems are those commenting on military tactics or the successes and failures of the government, or the poems of advice which he wrote to the authorities. Indirectly, he wrote about the effect of the times in which he lived on himself, and on the ordinary Chinese people. “Song of the Conscripts” (兵车行 Bingche Xing, literally “Ballad of the Army Wagons”) was written in around 750, when China under Emperor Xuanzong of Tang Dynasty (685~762) frequently engaged in wars with neighboring countries on its western border. It gives voice to the sufferings of conscript soldiers in the imperial army and criticizes China’s military expansionism.

“Song of the Conscripts” sets the scene around Chinese capital Chang’an (today’s Xi’an) with a long column of conscripts heading north to the Wei River Bridge and off to the frontier. A bystander elicits a monologue from one of the conscripts, who complains of the length of service, deserted farmland, and the anticipation of a futile death on the battlefield. A Tang paper fragment with a few lines of this poem has been found in the sands of Central Asia, testifying that the poem actually traveled with where the troops did.

English translation by Xu Yuanchong

Song of the Conscripts

Du Fu

Chariots rumble
and horses grumble.
The conscripts march with bow and arrows at the waist.
Their fathers, mothers, wives and children come in haste
To see them off; the bridge is shrouded in dust they’ve raised.
They clutch at their coats, stamp the feet and bar the way;
Their grief cries loud and strikes the cloud straight, straightaway.
An onlooker by roadside asks an enrollee.
“The conscription is frequent,” only answers he.
Some went north at fifteen to guard the rivershore,
And were sent west to till the land at forty.
The elder bound their young heads when they went away;
Just home, they’re sent to the frontier though their hair’s gray.
The field on borderland becomes a sea of blood;
The emperor’s greed for land is still at high flood.
Have you not heard
Two hundred districts east of the Hua Mountains lie,
Where briers and brambles grow in villages far and nigh?
Although stout women can wield the plough and the hoe,
Thorns and weeds in the east as in the west o’ergrow.
The enemy are used to hard and stubborn fight;
Our men are driven just like dogs or fowls in flight.
“You are kind to ask me.
To complain I’m not free.
In winter of this year
Conscription goes on here.
The magistrates for taxes press.
How can we pay them in distress?
If we had know sons bring no joy,
We would have preferred girl to boy.
A daughter can be wed to a neighbor, alas!
A son can only be buried under the grass!”
Have you not seen On borders green
Bleached bones since olden days unburied on the plain?
The old ghosts weep and cry, while the new ghosts complain;
The air is loud with screech and scream in gloomy rain.

Original text in Simplified Chinese

兵车行

杜甫

车辚辚,马萧萧,行人弓箭各在腰,
耶娘妻子走相送,尘埃不见咸阳桥。
牵衣顿足拦道哭,哭声直上干云霄。
道旁过者问行人,行人但云点行频。
或从十五北防河,便至四十西营田。
去时里正与裹头,归来头白还戍边。
边庭流血成海水,武皇开边意未已。
君不闻,汉家山东二百州,千村万落生荆杞。
纵有健妇把锄犁,禾生陇亩无东西。
况复秦兵耐苦战,被驱不异犬与鸡。
长者虽有问,役夫敢申恨?
且如今年冬,未休关西卒。
县官急索租,租税从何出。
信知生男恶,反是生女好。
生女犹得嫁比邻,生男埋没随百草。
君不见,青海头,古来白骨无人收。
新鬼烦冤旧鬼哭,天阴雨湿声啾啾。

source
Kang-i Sun Chang, Stephen Owen, The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, 2010, Cambridge University Press.
Xu Yuanchong, 300 Tang poems : a new translation, 1987, Commercial Press

Tang Ju Succeeded in His Mission

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The story of Tang Ju is recorded in Zhanguo Ce (战国策, “Strategy of the Warring States” ), a  fictionalized work of history first circulated during the Latter Han Dynasty of China (25~220 CE ). Unlike military strategy manuals that center on Sun Tzu-style martial tacticians, Zhanguo Ce highlights the group known as moushi (谋士, “strategist-persuader”) and their skills as politicians, rhetors and diplomats during the Warring States period (475~221 BCE).

Tang Ju was such a moushi serving Anling, a minor protectorate of the State of Wei. In 225 BCE, King Zhao of Qin (324~251 BCE) conquered Wei, posing an immediate threat to Anling. To save his endangered lord, Tang Ju went to meet furious King Zhao and successfully settled the dispute by wisdom and courage.

English translation by B.S. Bonsall

Tang Ju Succeeded in His Mission

     The King of Qin sent a messenger to speak to the Prince of Anling and say: “I wish to exchange five hundred li of territory for Anling. I hope the Prince of Anling will agree to my request!” The Prince of Anling said:”Your Majesty adds to your graciousness. I received the territory from the former King. I wish to guard it to the end. I dare not make the exchange!”

       The King of Qin was displeased. So the  Prince of Anling sent Tang Ju on a mission to Qin. The King of Qin spoke to Tang Ju and said: “I was giving five hundred li of territory in exchange for Anling. The Prince of Anling would not listen to me. Why was that? Moreover Qin has destroyed Han and wiped out Wei. And because His Highness has been left with fifty li of territory he considers himself to be superior. Therefore he pays no attention. Now I ask permission to extend his lands with territory ten times as large, and yet His Highness resists me. He is despising me.” Tang Ju replied: “No. It is not so. The Prince of Anling received the territory from the former King and keeps guard over it. He would not dare to exchange it for a thousand li. How would he for only five hundred?”

      The King of Qin was annoyed and angry. He spoke to Tang Ju and said: “And has your Lordship heard of the wrath of the Son of Heaven?” Tang Ju replied: “Your servant has not heard.” The King of Qin said: “The wrath of the Son of Heaven lays low a million corpses and makes blood to flow for a thousand li.” Tang Ju said: “Has Your Majesty heard of the wrath of a commoner?” The King of Qin said: “The wrath of commoner makes himself take off his hat, walk barefoot, and knock the ground with his head!” Tang Ju said: “This is the wrath of a mediocre person, not the wrath of a gentleman. When Zhuan Zhu assassinated King Liao a comet covered the moon. When Nie Zheng assassinated Han Gui a white rainbow pierced through the sun. When Yao Li assassinated Qing Ji black falcons fought above the palace. All these three gentlemen were commoners. While they were cherishing their wrath and before it had come forth, portents descended from the Heaven. And your servant will make a fourth! If a gentleman must be wrath, the corpses of two men will lie low and their blood flow five paces. This is the day for the world to put on mourning.” He drew his sword and arose.

         The King of Qin with confused countenance knelt as length and excused himself, saying: “Be seated sir. Why come to this? I understand. That after Han and Wei have been annihilated Anling survives with only fifty li of territory is solely because of you!”

Original text in Simplified Chinese

    唐雎不辱使命

        秦王使人谓安陵君曰:“寡人欲以五百里之地易安陵,安陵君其许寡人!”安陵君曰:“大王加惠,以大易小,甚善;虽然,受地于先王,愿终守之,弗敢易!”秦王不说。安陵君因使唐雎使于秦。

        秦王谓唐雎曰:“寡人以五百里之地易安陵,安陵君不听寡人,何也?且秦灭韩亡魏,而君以五十里之地存者,以君为长者,故不错意也。今吾以十倍之地,请广于君,而君逆寡人者,轻寡人与?”唐雎对曰:“否,非若是也。安陵君受地于先王而守之,虽千里不敢易也,岂直五百里哉?”

        秦王怫然怒,谓唐雎曰:“公亦尝闻天子之怒乎?”唐雎对曰:“臣未尝闻也。”秦王曰:“天子之怒,伏尸百万,流血千里。”唐雎曰:“大王尝闻布衣之怒乎?”秦王 曰:“布衣之怒,亦免冠徒跣,以头抢地耳!”唐雎曰:“此庸夫之怒也,非士之怒也。夫专诸之刺王僚也,彗星袭月;聂政之刺韩傀也,白虹贯日;要离之刺庆忌也,仓鹰击于殿上。此三子者,皆布衣之士也,怀怒未发,休祲降于天,与臣而将四矣!若士必怒,伏尸二人, 流血五步,天下缟素,今日是也。”挺剑而起。

        秦王色挠,长跪而谢之曰:“先生坐!何至于此!寡人谕矣:夫韩、魏灭亡,而安陵以五十里之地存者,徒以有先生也。”

Song of Yuanyuan

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Wrote during the Ming-Qing transition, Chinese poet Wu Weiye (1609~1671) was classified under the category of “officials who served two dynasties” (贰臣, erchen). He held office under the Qing from 1654 to 1656 and later regretted it.  Wu’s post-1644 writings are stuffed with lamentation for the fall of the Ming Dynasty, nostalgia for the world before its collapse, and, after his journey north to take office late in 1653, regret and anguish over his own irresolution and compromises. Most people have accepted Wu’s version of events — that he unwillingly took office under pressure from his family and the Qing authorities.

Honored as a “poet-historian” (诗史, shishi), Wu Weiye often chose to write longer ancient-style poems and ballads, forms that lend themselves to elaboration of descriptive and narrative detail, unfolding arguments, and shifting perspectives. In his famous “Song of Yuanyuan” (圆圆曲, Yuanyuan Qu), he put individual’s perspective against historical upheavals. According to various miscellanies and historical sources, the courtesan Chen Yuanyuan (1624~1681) was taken captive when Beijing fell to the rebels in 1644. Outraged at this turn of events, her lover Wu Sangui (1612~1678), military commander of the strategic Shanhai Pass, the eastern terminus of the Great Wall, joined forces with the Manchus and marched upon Beijing to facilitate the Manchu conquest. Wu did not make “Song of Yuanyuan” a warning against moral decadence and sensual indulgence, but remains sympathetic to Yuanyuan, who in the poem comes to stand for the helplessness and confusion of individual caught in cataclysmic turmoil.

English translation by Huang Zhangwei

Song of Yuanyuan

Wu Weiye

No sooner His Majesty committed suicide
Quit the world of horror
The General defeated the enemy in mountain-pass battles
Recaptures the capital in terms of honor

Soldiers were coached to cry for the emperor’s death
In their white mourning rags and sign
The General was so angry that his hair uplifted his hat
Simply for a beautiful concubine

Ostensibly the wanton woman may not be his only beloved
The rebel’s defeat mainly due to looting corruption
Swiftly striking them down by blitzkrieg
Expected a reunion

Always remember when he met her
At Mr. Tien’s house—the first sight scene
The singing and dancing of aristocratic entertainment
Topped by her flowered beauty to the extreme

The host allowed the General to pick her up
In a concubine marriage
And the royal relative’s geisha girl
Waiting for his ornamented wedding carriage

Who was such a girl?

She was born and raised
In a Soozhou’s romantic neighborhood in peace
Nicknamed Yuan Yuan
As pretty as fabulous silk masterpiece

Ever dreamed of getting inside an ancient royal garden
So happily milling around with roaming pace
Then ushered and fanned by palace girls
All the way to the King’s place

Probably she’s destined to be a countryside lotus-picking girl
And to be chosen later for a king
No wonder in front of where she lives
Provides such surrounding ponds like a ring

She was virtually kidnapped away in a boat
By a rich and strong man, can’t be defying
The departing twin oars
Splashing the river like flying

How unfortunate she was
In her youngster years
At that time the Beauty can do nothing
But bursting into tears

In a palace, to so many pretty girls
With bright teeth, sparkling eyes, who cared to pay attention
One of the royal relatives
Managed to have her released from palace administration

Then totally shut in a noble family’s confine
She was taught to sing new songs and learning her new line
The purpose was to please the guest
Until the guest drank to tipsy sunset and rest

Into all ears
The enchanting music rings
Who knows her melancholy
Fiddled among the strings

The noble General was young and smart
Making choices amidst pretty girls’ noise
Simply he can free any bird from a cage
By an order of his voice

As fairy goes, the once-a-year reunion
Of the Cowboy and Weaver-Girl on separate side of Milkway
Can be realized now to cross the bridge made by magpies
In any day of a year, at any time of a day

But pushed by urgent military orders
The General was reluctantly gone
Left behind a reunion promise
That subsequently made everything wrong

That reunion promise, so lovely and so hard to deliver
What a pity
Until suddenly one day
The rebels were all over the city

When viewing from upstairs
Willows beside her house excitedly changed a lot
In watchful eyes of a woman
It’s a sea of bewildered catkins on the spot

Sealing up her house
The search of the Beauty was going on
Shouting the best dancer’s name
Out! out of the luxurious building to come on down

Eventually were it not the victory
Of the General’s army to get her back
How could she be returned safely
On a single horseback

The messengers repeated the calling all along
“She is coming!”
Still shocked by her disastrous journey
Her unruly hair yet to be combing

Right there on battlefield
She was welcomed by candlelights and spears
She cannot help crying joyfully
Mingled her rouge with tears

Beating the drums, blowing the bugles
The General’s army marching toward the west
Along the road of Golden Cow
Thousands of war chariots progressed chest to chest

Sporadically she put herself up
In a valley-side guest house
Even the waning moon above the mountain-pass
Mirrored the Beauty with applause

As the news spread back to her native land
Time really flies as you see
Already counted it’s the tenth year frost
Standing there the old red tree

The geisha teacher—alive and well
Was still kicking around
The silk-cleaning girls remembered their companion
Knowing now she was safe and sound

Just like those busy swallows
In the same muddy nest, in the same days of old
Now the Beauty flew to the top
Becoming a phoenix in gold

Holding a wine-cup, some one usually felt sad
Thinking about old age
And someone’s husband
Titled the Prince on national stage

During those years
She was very much disturbed by her fame
But noble lords and leaders’ desire on her
Remained the same

As the Beauty says:
“Buy me off with a bushel of pearls
That brought up thousands of bushels’ unhappy elements
As it whirls”

“That made me wantoning
Over countless mountains and rivers in a haste
Ended up with, as evidenced by
My skinny and fragile waist”

Don’t blame stormy wind blowing the withering flowers
Looks like the destiny is unsound
As time goes by
The springtime and fortune will come around

Supposed the prettiest woman in history
Might destroy a nation or a city
Undoubtedly the General’s fame
Came up and down with the Beauty

Should a spouse have anything to do
With the existence of a nation
Irresistibly the General was tightly bound
By love and desire in combination

Members of the General’s family were all killed
Dead body’s bones became ashes and ashes it laid
Merely left the Beauty’s big name in history
O’ What a price the General has paid

Don’t you see
The ancient king’s place of love
Where the twin ducks swim happily to and fro
The beautiful girls of Yue country
Just like countless flowers as many generations grow

Now the once fragrant garden path
Is dusty and weedy
Only the birds are still chirping:
“What a pity!”

The once most fantastic palace corridor of Wu Dynasty
Which can produce musical sound with each stepping on
Except the silent courtyard moss is evergreen
Everything else together with the Beauty is all gone

Within a scope of ten thousand miles
The stage moved to the old southwest
Changing things like shifting musical tones
Whether comedy or tragedy, history will judge best

Comparing the songs singing in palace of Wu Dynasty
Ceaseless inspirations and rhymes reaching a new height
Just like the Han River
Flows to southeast day and night

Original text in simplified Chinese

圆圆曲

吴伟业

鼎湖当日弃人间,破敌收京下玉关,
恸哭六军俱缟素,冲冠—怒为红颜。
红颜流落非吾恋,逆贼夭亡自荒宴。
电扫黄巾定黑山,哭罢君亲再相见。
相见初经田窦家,侯门歌舞出如花。
许将戚里箜篌伎,等取将军油壁车。
家本姑苏浣花里,圆圆小字娇罗绮。
梦向夫差苑里游,宫娥拥入君王起。
前身合是采莲人,门前一片横塘水。
横塘双桨去如飞,何处豪家强载归。
此际岂知非薄命,此时唯有泪沾衣。
薰天意气连宫掖,明眸皓齿无人惜。
夺归永巷闭良家,教就新声倾坐客。
坐客飞觞红日暮,一曲哀弦向谁诉?
白晰通侯最少年,拣取花枝屡回顾。
早携娇鸟出樊笼,待得银河几时渡?
恨杀军书抵死催,苦留后约将人误。
相约恩深相见难,一朝蚁贼满长安。
可怜思妇楼头柳,认作天边粉絮看。
遍索绿珠围内第,强呼绛树出雕阑。
若非壮士全师胜,争得蛾眉匹马还?
蛾眉马上传呼进,云鬟不整惊魂定。
蜡炬迎来在战场,啼妆满面残红印。
专征萧鼓向秦川,金牛道上车千乘。
斜谷云深起画楼,散关月落开妆镜。
传来消息满江乡,乌桕红经十度霜。
教曲伎师怜尚在,浣纱女伴忆同行。
旧巢共是衔泥燕,飞上枝头变凤凰。
长向尊前悲老大,有人夫婿擅侯王。
当时只受声名累,贵戚名豪竞延致。
一斛明珠万斛愁,关山漂泊腰肢细。
错怨狂风飏落花,无边春色来天地。
尝闻倾国与倾城,翻使周郎受重名。
妻子岂应关大计,英雄无奈是多情。
全家白骨成灰土,—代红妆照汗青。
君不见馆娃初起鸳鸯宿,越女如花看不足。
香径尘生乌自啼,屧廊人去苔空绿。
换羽移宫万里愁,珠歌翠舞古梁州。
为君别唱吴宫曲,汉水东南日夜流!

source: Kang-i Sun Chang & Stephen Owen, “The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature Volume 2: From 1375”,  Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Crossing the Lonely Ocean

Wen Tianxiang(1236 –1283) was a prominent scholar, military leader, and poet in the late years of the Southern Song Dynasty. Having passed the imperial examination as the top scorer at a young age, he gradually rose up the ranks and served as the Prime Minister. Wen positively organizing the Chinese resistance against Mongol invasion and was captured. He was tortured for years and ultimately executed, never wavering in his loyalties.

Crossing the Lonely Ocean was written in early 1279 when Wen was being escorted from Guangdong to Beijing to meet Kublai Khan, the new ruler of China. The Lonely Ocean (伶仃洋/零丁洋, Lingding Yang) is also known as Lintin Sea. A part of South China Sea, it locates in the south of the Zhongshan County, Guangdong Province. The Frightful Shallows (惶恐滩, Huangkong Tan) is one of the eighteen dangerous shallows in the Gan River of Jiangxi Province. The Mongols entered Jiangxi in 1275 and defeated Wen’s army there in 1277.

Crossing the Lonely Ocean
Wen Tianxiang

Through painstaking mastery of one
Of the Classics, I have risen high;
But four years of raging war have well-nigh
Brought all-round destitution and ruin.
My shattered country does remind
Me of willow-catkins swept by wind;
My life’s vicissitudes attain
The aspect of duckweeds beaten by rain.
At the Frightful Shallows we fought our way,
They’d tell the frightful battle never won,
And on the Lonely Ocean I could but sigh
For being captured, and all alone.
Down through the ages, whoever that lived
Has not in death ended his life?
I wish to leave but a loyal heart
Shining red in History’s archive.

过零丁洋

文天祥

辛苦遭逢起一经,干戈寥落四周星。
山河破碎风飘絮,身世浮沉雨打萍。
惶恐滩头说惶恐,零丁洋里叹零丁。
人生自古谁无死,留取丹心照汗青。

source: Wang Zhihuan, Selected Lyrics on Themes of Patriotism and Moral Integrity: from Ancient to Modern Chinese Classic Poetry, 1995, China Translation & Publishing Corporation.