In late March, just as the last cool winds escaped Shenzhen and bonded with the mist over the South China Sea, I soared over the streets. The dry golden leaves of a long Autumn were finally falling – perhaps the only happening in Shenzhen that was behind the times. With every violent gust of wind, I heard their thousands of crackling murmurs and whispers, as if cursing the aimless kicks of people’s shoes, or the dull inevitability of their demise. I rarely fly in the afternoon, dreading that empty feeling where the brain is sick of itself but has nowhere to flee.
锦瑟无端五十弦， jǐn sè wú duān wǔ shí xián
一弦一柱思华年。 yī xián yī zhù sī huá nián
庄生晓梦迷蝴蝶， zhuāng shēng xiǎo mèng mí hú dié
望帝春心托杜鹃 wàng dì chūn xīn tuō dù juān
沧海月明珠有泪， cāng hǎi yuè míng zhū yǒu lèi
蓝田日暖玉生烟。 lán tián rì nuǎn yù shēng yān
此情可待成追忆， cǐ qíng kě dāi chéng zhuī yì
只是当时已惘然。 zhǐ shì dāng shí yǐ wǎng rán
No matter that the zither has fifty strings,
Each string, each bridge, a year gone by,
Zhuangzi’s 1 morning dreams, mystic, magic butterflies,
The Emperor’s 2 thirst for love, to a cuckoo entrust.
Above the azure sea, the bright moon, a pearly tear, touched
As the day warms, by jade mist rising from Indigo fields.
Emotions return, forgotten memories,
Vague, all places forever lost.3
About the Calligraphy
锦瑟无端五十弦，一弦一柱思华年。No matter that the zither has 50 strings or so, Each string, each bridge recalls my younger years (2 rows, 14 characters, Cursive Cao Script): M.O. Ndesandjo
1. The disciple of Confucius, who dreamed he was butterfly who in turn dreamt he was a man.
2 Refers to an emperor who was soul was trapped in the body of a cuckoo
3. According to legend, the 25 stringed zither originally had 50 strings. When the White Maid goddess refused to play for her husband, he angrily broke it into two pieces.
5 thoughts on “Poem Without a Title 20”
I cited this poem to an American friend, who wanted to know the meaning of this beautiful poem, I was unable to translate for him thus did some searches online hoping to find a translation not only correct but also elegant. I’m so happy I’ve found yours. It brings out the nuances and subtlety and I don’t think anyone else would be able to do a better job…! No doubt my friend would be VERY delighted to see your translation. Thank you very much! :-)
Greetings from The Netherlands.
Thanks for your kind comments. Great poems, like great music, are never able to be fully interpreted … and that’s what makes them amazing.
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Thank you for your reply, sir. Are you planning on translating other poets’ works as well? I’d love to see translated works from 温庭筠。I’d write down his “新添声杨柳枝词二首” in English and give it to my crush. I see no ways of expressing affection more romantic than that.
Your calligraphy is way better than some calligraphy works done by Chinese.
Greetings from The Netherlands,
How many poems did he write and what do you consider his best work? Glad you like the 草书.
He’s written ca 350-400 poems. While his works, usually about unrequited love and changes of the four seasons, might not be so known as Li Shangyin’s, there’re quite a few that are widely quoted and cited by people. Notably two poems titled 杨柳枝:
I’d compare his poems with oil paintings and Li Shangyin’s with watercolour. I can’t really say that I prefer one over another, they’re really just about different styles that I equally love.
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