On Sunday, after Li Shangyin alighted from his purple phoenix in Los Angeles, at Hollywood and Vine, most people ignored him. It was about three in the afternoon, when it was both too early and too late to do anything. So, while some in the city were following the Lakers’ latest draft picks or the launch of the iPhone 32, others slept.
“Look , Mum, that bird is from Harry Potter!” , said a little boy, his lollipop almost dropping from his mouth.
“Don’t stare,” said his mother, a stout woman with a frowsy head of hair that looked to Shangyin like a wet red lantern. She rapped him on the head with her knuckles, shaking the boy’s two dragon like tufts of brown hair.
“It’s just a specially decorated drone. Amazon uses them all the time to deliver packages.”
They walked on.
He entered a nearby Starbucks. His phoenix settled itself by the Hollywood Walk of fame, meekly drinking a glass of wine. He had taught it to do so, in the manner of the trained Arab horses that the Tang Emperor was fond of.
It was while he was sipping the frappuccino (with two shots of expresso), that the thought hit him. At this moment, in the middle of his life, the question of who he was could be settled by two words: I feel. The question of identity and consciousness was beyond words. For example, as a baby, he had reached for his mother and on the few occasions she moved away from him, the pain he felt was insufferable. Yet it was beyond his control. At that instant, he had recognized that there was an other, and his mother was part of it. He wanted a promotion, not because someone told him to do so, but because he felt he was more capable. He wrote, not because he was good, but because it was his passion. All these feelings made him who he was. It made sense to him that his poems need not be connected by logic, but whimsy and imagination.
A young woman chewing gum between tattooed lips walked up to him. She wore a bright shirt that reminded him of peacock plumes.
“Weird threads, man!”
Li Shangyin, looked behind, thinking she had said “We said…”
“I didn’t say anything,” he stuttered.
“Don’t worry,” she shrugged. She had rich black hair cut short. A slight frown gently darkened her alabaster white forehead, like a bird’s shadow behind light silk.
Li Shangyin remembered the dancing girls and concubines of Chang An, in particular the Persian or Arab women in diaphanous gowns with breaths of spring.
“That’s right, you must be Miss No Worry.” He gave a big smile, as though he had passed a test.
“A woman I knew. She never worried, and lived in a place called Stone City.”
‘You sound like a poet!’ She sat down beside him, but not too close.
黄河摇溶天上来， huáng hé yáo róng tiān shàng lái，
玉楼影近中天台。 yù lóu yǐng jìn zhōng tiān tái。
龙头泻酒客寿杯， lóng tóu xiè;xì jiǔ kè shòu bēi，
主人浅笑红玫瑰。 zhǔ rén qiǎn xiào hóng méi guī。
梓泽东来七十里， zǐ zé dōng lái qī shí lǐ，
长沟复堑埋云子。 cháng;zhǎng gōu fù qiàn mái yún zǐ。
可惜秋眸一脔光， kě xī qiū móu yī luán guāng，
汉陵走马黄尘起。 hàn líng zǒu mǎ huáng chén qǐ。
南浦老鱼腥古涎， nán pǔ lǎo yú xīng gǔ xián，
真珠密字芙蓉篇。 zhēn zhū mì zì fú róng piān。
湘中寄到梦不到， xiāng zhōng jì dào mèng bù dào，
衰容自去抛凉天。 shuāi;cuī róng zì qù pāo liáng tiān。
忆得蛟丝裁小卓， yì dé;děi;de jiāo sī cái xiǎo zhuō，
蛱蝶飞回木绵薄。 jiá dié fēi huí mù mián bó。
绿绣笙囊不见人， lǜ xiù shēng náng bù jiàn rén，
一口红霞夜深嚼。 yī kǒu hóng xiá yè shēn jué;jiáo。
幽兰泣露新香死， yōu lán qì lù;lòu xīn xiāng sǐ，
画图浅缥松溪水。 huà tú qiǎn piǎo sōng qī shuǐ。
楚丝微觉竹枝高， chǔ sī wēi jué;jiào zhú zhī gāo，
半曲新辞写绵纸。 bàn qū xīn cí xiě mián zhǐ。
巴西夜市红守宫， bā xī yè shì hóng shǒu gōng，
后房点臂斑斑红。 hòu fáng diǎn bì bān bān hóng。
堤南渴雁自飞久， dī nán kě yàn zì fēi jiǔ，
芦花一夜吹西风。 lú huā yī yè chuī xī fēng。
晓帘串断蜻蜓翼， xiǎo lián chuàn duàn qīng tíng yì，
罗屏但有空青色。 luó;luō píng;bǐng dàn yǒu kòng qīng sè。
玉湾不钓三千年， yù wān bù diào sān qiān nián，
莲房暗被蛟龙惜。 lián fáng àn bèi jiāo lóng xī。
湿银注镜井口平， shī yín zhù jìng jǐng kǒu píng，
鸾钗映月寒铮铮。 luán chāi yìng yuè hán zhēng zhēng。
不知桂树在何处， bù zhī guì shù zài hé chǔ，
仙人不下双金茎。 xiān rén bù xià shuāng jīn jīng。
百尺相风插重屋， bǎi chǐ;chě xiàng;xiāng fēng chā chóng wū，
侧近嫣红伴柔绿。 cè jìn yān hóng bàn róu lǜ。
百劳不识对月郎， bǎi láo bù shí duì yuè láng，
湘竹千条为一束。 xiāng zhú qiān tiáo wèi;wéi yī shù。
Turbulent, these rolling waters of Heaven’s Yellow River,
The Jade Mansion’s shadow falls on Zhongtian Terrace hither.
The guest’s mug overflows with wine from the Dragon Head pitcher,
With a rosy dimpled smile the hostess gently laughs, and I with her.
Yize lies seventy li away in the Eastern zones,
There I passed long ravines and moats covered with mica like bones.
What I pity that I failed to see the autumn pools in your eyes
As if horses had pounded over the Han King’s tomb, raising a dusty sheen
Awaiting your news from the southern riverbank made me drool as over tasty fish of old,
Honest, sweet words and thoughts quietly adorned your hibiscus scented scrolls.
At Xiao Zhong your missive arrived but my dreams of seeing you were unfulfilled,
Autumn went, I departed, wan and sallow, saddened, failed.
Remembering the small table you cut and embroidered silk of mermaids and sharks,
Moths fly back to my pillow of cotton worn thin and stark.
No one plays the Sheng by the embroidered green coverlet,
Crimson silk threads sparkle in the deep of the night.
The orchid weeps to know your scent is gone
Greenish blue poplars and little brooks in a picture have shone.
The Chu Silk songs feel weak, the Bamboo branch poems are grand,
Half finished songs and new poems on the silk paper land.
The red chameleon of Baling’s night time city,
In recessed chambers, marks bloody spots on the arms of wasted beauties.
Yearning, I am a wild goose flying long over the southern banks,
Then at night, from the reeds the west wind blows me askance.
Morning, the curtain strings stop the dragonfly’s wings,
Empty, the netted screen is a simple green.
The Jade sea has not been fished for three thousand years,
While the lotus palace is cherished by a water dragon that rarely appears.
Wet silver pours into the mirror’s placid well,
The Luan hairpin clicks where a cold moon dwells
The Cassia tree has vanished, I reckon
The Immortal’s double staff of gold has not beckoned
One hundred chi high, the weather vane sticks from the lofty tower
Close to bright vermillion and soft emerald walls
Aloft, the shrike cares not for the moon’s consort
Or the bamboo bouquet mottled with a thousand tears.
Reading of Heyang Poem by Mark Obama Ndesandjo
Musical Interlude: Prelude No 6 by Mark O. Ndesandjo
I associate this work with Dante and the poet visionary William Blake. It evokes that sense of space and alienation that Shangyin is so good at internalizing. By this I mean that he uses images to evoke feelings in the reader that are on the cusp of being articulated. In the end, poets are like musicians: they are a medium through which something bigger than all of us finds expression.
9 thoughts on “Heyang Poem”
Hi, Mr.Ndesandjo, your translation of 河阳诗 is so impressive! There is only one little flaw. 巴陵夜市红守宫，后房点臂斑斑红。 守宫 is a kind of lizard or salamander, not that Shou Palace.
Thanks Edith for your constructive criticism! It helps make the poem even better. You are correct, and I will make the change. As I was researching your comment, I discovered a little more about why he refers to a gecko/lizard. At the time, the Chinese used the chameleon to produce a special pigment that was said to identify virgins (!). According to the 博物志：戏术 and other sources, the chameleon in question was fed special nutrients mixed with a specific amount of red sand. Once its body had turned bright red, it was crushed to form a paste. Using the paste, marks were applied to the arms of young women or girls who had never had sex. The red marks on the skin would disappear after intercourse, otherwise they were permanent. Folks could reputedly identify who was truly chaste. The chameleon was considered to have supernatural powers and ancient kings believed they protected the palace. Hence the name – an abbreviated form of ‘the sand that protects the palace’. Please keep the great comments coming and thanks for the support!
I am also interested in your interpretation. If Shangyin borns in the near-future, it’s an attractive thought that he will surely enjoy living in a prosperous and bustling cosmopolis with reality and phantoms, just like LA. In history, when he worked in a provincial place, hearing that Chang An was decorating with ingenius ornamented lanterns, he wrote a sad poem named 正月十五闻京有灯恨不得观.
And there is also a question of mine. Why your neo-interpretation story assumes that the Heyang poem to be written by a talented child？
I should apologize for my perfunctory question above. To begin with, I was just researching for translations of Heyang Poem and found your version. Now I’ve realized that your more articles are with stories and translations. That’s your style. Are you a playful scholar? If not, you must be a talented amateur.
As a Shangyinphile, I’m so glad to know you!!
There’s a new question I hope do not bother you:
The former famous translators, such like David Young, James Liu and Stephen Owen, among whom you prefer?
(I think that Young is clever and flexible, Liu is a master and Owen is elegant but with occasional affectation in oriental atmosphere.)
Thanks Edith. I like David Hawke’s work a lot.
Edith I too think he would have liked LA. However, I believe he would have preferred DC because that is where the power lies. My stories about Shangyin are a mix of the historical person and sometimes just a personal alter-ego. I also like the poem that you mentioned (“Hating Being Unable To See The Capitol’s Bright Lights On The 15th Night Of The 1st Lunar Month) i.e. The moon and the lamps light the Emperor’s home/Beautiful carts and magnificent steeds roam through narrow streets/Idle, unable to see the glorious parade/I’m left with the plain folks to honor the Purple Maid. The translation is at https://atangpoetfromnairobi.com/poetry-index/complete-poems-section-9/. I do not understand your question about “a talented child”…perhaps you can explain a little more?
the tinkermans daughter
All the wee birds were lining the bleak autumn branches
Preparing to fly to a far distant shore
When the tinkers made camp at the bend in the river
Coming back from the horsefair in Ballinasloe.
The harvest being over the farmer came walking
Along the Feale River that bordered his land
And twas there he first saw her twixt firelight and water
The Tinkerman’s daughter, The Red Headed Ann.
Next morning he rose from a night without resting
Went straight to her father and made his case known.
In a pub in Listowel they worked out the bargain
For the Tinker a pony: for the daughter a home.
Where the trees peg their shadows along the Feale River
The Tinker and farmer inspected the land
And a white gelding pony was the price they agreed on
For the Tinkerman’s daughter, The Red Headed Ann.
The wedding soon over the tinkers departed
They were eager to travel on south down the road
But the crunch of the iron-shod wheels on the gravel
Was as bitter to her as the way she’d been sold.
Yet she tried hard to please him – she did all his bidding
She slept in his bed and she worked on his land
But the walls of that cabin pressed tighter and tighter
On the Tinkerman’s daughter, The Red Headed Ann.
As white as the hands of the priest or the hangman
The snow spread its blanket the next Christmas round
When the Tinkerman’s daughter slipped out from the bedside
Turned her back on the land and her face to the town.
It was said someone saw her ere dusk that same evening
She was making her way out oer Lyracrumpayne
But that was the last time the settled folk saw her
The Tinkerman’s daughter, The Red Headed Ann.
Where the North Kerry hills cup the Feale near Listowel
On a farm on its banks lives a bitter old man
And he swears by the shotgun he keeps at his bedside
That he’ll kill any tinker who camps on his land.
But whenever he hears iron-shod wheels crunch on gravel
Or a horse in the shafts of a bright caravan
Then his days work’s tormented: his night’s sleep demented
By the Tinkerman’s daughter, The Red Headed Ann.
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Mark, this is some of the most creative rhyming I have ever read. Speaking of creative, do you consider this process as much interpretation as translation?
Thanks for the support Fritz. Classical chinese poems rhyme according to pretty strict rules, not to mention that words then likely sounded different from the spoken language today. I’ve found out that trying to match english and chinese according to these rules is possible, but very cumbersome and sounds really awkward. Translating poems is a process of interpretation, where one tries to be a sympathetic medium between the poet and the reader. It’s sort of like playing a Chopin piano score. The great pianists such Lipatti, Pollini, Horowitz all had their distinctive take on the music. In short, yes…an interpretation.