Art and Aesthetics · nature

Swallow Terrace Poems

As I was biking along the Shenzhen boardwalk, I looked up. The sky was a cool plastic slate that stretched from the west, where the sun blushed behind pearly screens. Around me the sounds of hip hop mixed with the tinkle of bicycle bells, the scent of jasmine and barbecued meat. Along the shore of the South China Sea, huge stones and boulders were neatly piled up like ossified dragon tears. Young mangroves would break through, their leaves cupped as if to gather raindrops. As I sped down the boardwalk the wind called me. I imagined I was trapped in a conch shell, its sounds drowning my beating heart. It plaintively sang in e flat minor, the dramatic key of a Rachmaninoff etude or (the enharmonic equivalent) of a Scriabin prelude, saying, Come on, come on!

 

春  chūn

风光冉冉东西陌,  fēng guāng  rǎn rǎn  dōng xi;dōng xī mò,

几日娇魂寻不得。  jǐ;jī rì jiāo hún xún  bù dé。

蜜房羽客类芳心,  mì fáng  yǔ kè lèi  fāng xīn,

冶叶倡条遍相识。  yě yè chàng tiáo biàn  xiāng shí。

暖蔼辉迟桃树西,  nuǎn ǎi huī chí  táo shù xī,

高鬟立共桃鬟齐。  gāo huán lì gòng táo huán qí。

雄龙雌凤杳何许?  xióng lóng cí fèng yǎo  hé xǔ?

絮乱丝繁天亦迷。  xù  luàn sī fán tiān yì mí。

醉起微阳若初曙,  zuì qǐ wēi yáng ruò chū shǔ,

映帘梦断闻残语。  yìng lián mèng duàn wén cán yǔ;yù。

愁将铁网罥珊瑚,  chóu jiāng;jiàng tiě wǎng juàn  shān hú,

海阔天宽迷处所。  hǎi kuò tiān kuān mí  chù suǒ。

衣带无情有宽窄,  yì;yī dài  wú qíng yǒu  kuān zhǎi,

春烟自碧秋霜白。  chūn yān zì bì  qiū shuāng bái。

研丹擘石天不知,  yán dān bò shí tiān  bù zhī,

愿得天牢锁冤魄。  yuàn dé;děi;de tiān láo suǒ yuān pò。

夹罗委箧单绡起,  jiá;jiā luó;luō wěi qiè dān;chán xiāo qǐ,

香肌冷衬琤琤佩。  xiāng jī lěng chèn chēng chēng pèi。

今日东风自不胜,  jīn rì  dōng fēng zì  bù shèng,

化作幽光入西海。  huà;huā zuò yōu guāng rù xī hǎi。
夏  xià
前阁雨帘愁不卷,  qián dū;gé yǔ lián chóu bù juǎn;juàn,

后堂芳树阴阴见。  hòu táng fāng  shù yīn yīn jiàn;xiàn。

石城景物类黄泉,  shí chéng  jǐng wù lèi  huáng quán,

夜半行郎空柘弹。  yè bàn xíng;háng;xìng láng kōng zhè tán;dàn。

绫扇唤风阊阖天,  líng shàn;shān huàn fēng  chāng hé tiān,

轻帏翠幕波洄旋。  qīng wéi cuì mù bō huí xuán。

蜀魂寂寞有伴未?  shǔ hún  jì mò yǒu bàn wèi?

几夜瘴花开木棉。  jǐ;jī yè zhàng  huā kāi  mù mián。

桂宫流影光难取,  guì gōng liú yǐng guāng nán qǔ,

嫣薰兰破轻轻语。  yān xūn lán pò  qīng qīng yǔ;yù。

直教银汉堕怀中,  zhí jiào;jiāo  yín hàn duò huái zhōng,

未遣星妃镇来去。  wèi qiǎn xīng fēi zhèn;chēn  lái qù。

浊水清波何异源,  zhuó shuǐ qīng bō hé yì yuán,

济河水清黄河浑。  jǐ;jì  hé shuǐ qīng  huáng hé hún。

安得薄雾起缃裙,  ān dé;děi;de  bó wù qǐ xiāng qún,

手接云輧呼太君。  shǒu jiē yún peng hū tài jūn。
秋  qiū

 

月浪衡天天宇湿,  yuè làng héng  tiān tiān yǔ shī,

凉蟾落尽疏星入。  liáng chán luò;lào;là jìn;jǐn shū xīng rù。

云屏不动掩孤嚬,  yún píng;bǐng  bù dòng yǎn gū pín,

西楼一夜风筝急。  xī lóu yī yè  fēng zhēng jí。

欲织相思花寄远,  yù zhī  xiāng sī huā jì yuǎn,

终日相思却相怨。  zhōng rì  xiāng sī què xiàng;xiāng yuàn。

但闻北斗声回环,  dàn wén běi dòu;dǒu shēng huí huán,

不见长河水清浅。  bù jiàn  cháng hé shuǐ qīng qiǎn。

金鱼锁断红桂春,  jīn yú suǒ duàn hóng guì chūn,

古时尘满鸳鸯茵。  gǔ shí chén mǎn  yuān yāng yīn。

堪悲小苑作长道,  kān bēi xiǎo yuàn zuò cháng;zhǎng dào,

玉树未怜亡国人。  yù shù wèi lián wáng  guó rén。

瑶琴愔愔藏楚弄,  yáo qín yīn yīn zàng;cáng chǔ nòng;lòng,

越罗冷薄金泥重。  yuè luó;luō lěng bò;báo;bó jīn ní zhòng;chóng。

帘钩鹦鹉夜惊霜,  lián gōu  yīng wǔ  yè jīng shuāng,

唤起南云绕云梦。  huàn qǐ nán yún rào yún mèng。

双璫丁丁联尺素,  shuāng dāng  zhēng zhēng lián  chǐ sù,

内记湘川相识处。  nèi jì xiāng chuān  xiāng shí chù;chǔ。

歌唇一世衔雨看,  gē chún  yī shì xián yǔ kàn;kān,

可惜馨香手中故。  kě xī xīn xiāng shǒu zhōng gù。

 

冬  dōng

 

天东日出天西下,  tiān dōng  rì chū tiān xī xià,

雌凤孤飞女龙寡。  cí fèng gū fēi nǚ lóng guǎ。

青溪白石不相望,  qīng qī bái shí bù  xiāng wàng,

堂上远甚苍梧野。  táng shang yuǎn shèn cāng wú yě。

冻壁霜华交隐起,  dòng bì shuāng huā;huá jiāo yǐn qǐ,

芳根中断香心死。  fāng gēn  zhōng duàn xiāng xīn sǐ。

浪乘画舸忆蟾蜍,  làng chéng;shèng huà gě yì  chán chú,

月娥未必婵娟子。  yuè é  wèi bì  chán juān zǐ。

楚管蛮弦愁一概,  chǔ guǎn mán xián chóu  yī gài,

空城罢舞腰支在。  kōng chéng bà;ba wǔ yāo zhī zài。

当时欢向掌中销,  dāng shí;dàng shí huān xiàng zhǎng zhōng xiāo,

桃叶桃根双姊妹。  táo yè táo gēn shuāng  zǐ mèi。

破鬟倭堕凌朝寒,  pò huán wō duò líng cháo;zhāo hán,

白玉燕钗黄金蝉。  bái yù yàn chāi  huáng jīn chán。

风车雨马不持去,  fēng chē yǔ mǎ bù chí qù,

蜡烛啼红怨天曙。  là zhú tí hóng yuàn tiān shǔ。

 

Spring

 Spring’s glow slowly sweeps across footpaths east to west

For days it seeks but does not find that charming lass.

This honeybee is her kindred soul, her guest

Singing in a tree’s branches, knowing where her eyebrows are fixed fast.

From the west, the glow slowly paints the peach trees

Like hair coiled high, the fruit’s topknots in her I see.

Whence the dragon and his luan so fair

Aimless like willow leaves, gossamer tumbling in the air.

Tipsy, woken by a faint light, (I think it is dawn)

A bright curtain, dreams interrupted, words half form.

Upset, one tries to snare the coral in an iron web[1]

Yet in these vast seas and changing skies where to tread?

A woman’s girdle, tough without passion, can be large or slight

The spring mist is gray, but can turn into the autumn frost, white.

Of pounding cinnabar, breaking open stones, what does heaven know?

One wishes to forever lock away Spring’s soul!

Discard the heavy pajamas for the box of light clothes

Fragrant skin shudders in the fabric, as hair pins rattle in the cold.

Today the East Wind leaves, my soul is weak, may we

Leave this moody gloom and also sink into the Western Sea?

 

Summer

 Before the chamber, on a rain-soaked curtain, worries unfolded

Behind the halls, in a fragrant arbor, murky views darkened.

Stone City’s surroundings are like the Place of Yellow Shades[2]

But for midnight brothels, whoring, and empty slingshots made of bamboo blades[3].

Satin fans gleam, wind sweeps Heaven’s gate

On light curtains, kingfisher green drapes, ponds of roiling waves.

Has the cuckoo’s[4] lonely soul found a mate yet,

In this miasma thick for days with cotton seed flowers?

Shadows stream through the Cassia Palace[5], light barely collects

The lotus bursts, perfumed scents, hushed words are said.

Into the Milky River one’s heart directly sinks, flows

Not sent away, the Spinning Maid[6] often comes and goes.

From what strange place, these clear or turbid waters and waves?

The Ji’s water is clear, cloudy the Yellow River.

Mist quietly rises up your thin silk dress

With hands to grab the cloud awning of the carriage, beckoning this goddess.

 

Autumn

 Moonlight floods the misty sky,

Then dims, washing away a stream of Autumn stars.

The mica screen[7] is still, hiding a brow that glowers

For all night, copper eaves clatter on the Western Towers.

From afar, I would send you my palindrome brocade

Love for you reverts any sad thoughts, regrets.

Although one hears the Dipper’s[8] handle turn

The waters of the Milky Way are clear, do not churn.

The copper fish knob is locked, cassia flowers on cheeks so red

Dust has long settled on the mandarin duck bed.

Now a highway, before, a sad little garden where one used to roam

The homeless man receives no pity, says the Jade Tree poem[9].

The (Chu songs) are hidden under the carefree jasper lute

Its Yue Luo struts are cold, heavily plated with gold, now mute.

Curtains hang from parrot beaks[10] that squeak in the evening frost

Recalling these southern voyages, dreams of Yun Marsh are lost.

Attached to a foot of white silk[11], two earrings ding, ding

Memories of our meeting on the Xiang River they bring.

We see the dancer sing of a world of bitter tears

I hold your letter, its scent with me so long, so near.

 

Winter

 The sun rises from  the east and quickly sets in the west

The male luan flies alone, female dragons are far between.

Miss Blue Spring and Master White Stone cannot see each other[12]

Their halls between them are as far as wild Canwu[13], it seems.

Frozen walls and frosty flowers mingle, their forms unclear

In fragrant buds, their growth arrested, true love has withered, one fears.

Waves buffet the painted boat, the moon is recalled

The face of Chang ‘E does not seem that lovely after all.

The Chu pipe and barbarian strings sing troubled tunes

Slender waists cease dancing in the palace’ empty rooms.

For only an instant they could dance on open palms[14],

The two sisters Peach Leaf and Peach Root were arm in arm.

Tossed hair buns and hollow curls mocked the cold morning

White jade swallow hairpins, gold cicada[15] ornaments and things.

Now chariots of wind and horses of rain clouds aimlessly fret

As red candles weep, daybreak arrives, to complaints and regret.

 

Reading: Autumn – Read by Mark Obama Ndesandjo

 

Musical Interlude: Rachmaninoff Etude Tableaux in E Flat (Take 2) Pianist – Mark Obama Ndesandjo

 

I wanted to play this piece again, a little differently. Rachmaninoff had a picture in his mind when he wrote this. However, he kept it a secret, encouraging each listener or performer to create his or her own. Some of his most passionate works are in this key – this is no exception.

Notes:

Although there was a Terrace of Yen or Terrace of Gold with the same Chinese name built by King Chao of Yen (312-279BC) I prefer to think of it as a mythical place of swallows, a creature which runs throughout LSY’s poems. The swallow in mythology is a harbinger of Spring, and a sign of success and marriage. When a swallow builds a nest on a house, it is a sign someone will soon get married.

[1] Corals were once caught be casting iron nets, in which the coral would grow.

[2] The home of Miss No Worry (literally Mo Chou ), in two ancient songs, one of which goes

Where does No Worry live?/She lives west of the Stone City/A light boat rowed by two oars/ Brings No Worry here fast. The other was written by Emperor Wu of Liang, about a beautiful girl forced into marriage in the rich Lu family, and who loved the man next door. Yellow shades refers to the nether world.

[3] Men used to carry their crossbows or slingshots as signs of virility

[4] Referring to a king’s soul who was trapped in the body of a cuckoo.

[5] Chang E’s home on the moon

[6] Destined to meet her lover the Cowherd once a year

[7] A screen made of mother of pearl i.e. mica

[8] The Big Dipper. The Chinese were great astronomers.

[9] Classic poems that refer to a man who lost his kingdom and tried to commit suicide, and the southern kingdom of Chu.

[10] Curtain frames shaped like parrot beaks

[11] Letters were often written on silk

[12] Goddess Little Maid of the Blue Stream. There was an immortal called White Stone Lad.

[13] A remote place that LSY may even have visited

[14] A dancer said to be so light and nimble she could dance on one’s palm

[15] Insect that sounds at night

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