To Reach the Palace of Heaven: A Response to Li Qingzhao’s “On the Trail of Sweet Incense”

They said we could sail to the east,
For ten long days and ten dark nights,
Reach that shining, singular spot,
Where Milky Way and ocean meet,
Ride a silver river of stars,
Up endless layers of clouds like stairs,
And reach the Palace of Heaven—
Its lunar floors shimmering bright—
And dance our eternity there.
At one time they swore this was true.
Perhaps it was, but beyond doubt
Is that of all those who set out
To reach the Palace of Heaven,
None was seen or heard from again.


Tune: “On the Trail of Sweet Incense”
The Seventh Day of the Seventh Lunar Month①
by Li Qingzhao

A deep gloom broods over Heaven and Earth.
In the rank grass crickets are chirping,
And parasol-trees, startled, let fall their leaves.
Clouds for stairs, the moon for floor,
To Heaven the way is blocked by a thousand barriers ,
And floating rafts ply to and fro
To no avail. ②

On this night magpies form a star bridge to span the Milky Way,
Where Cowboy and Weaving Maid keep their yearly tryst .
Endless must be their murmurings of love and regret
After long separation!
But whence these sudden changes
Of sun and rain and wind
In the midst of their love-making?
Can it be that they are taking leave of each other
At this very moment?

①A beautiful folk-tale dating back many centuries says that the Cowboy and the Weaving Maid (the two stars Altair and Vega on opposites ides of the Milky Way) loved each other so much that they incurred the displeasure of the Emperor of Heaven for neglect of duty and were permitted to meet only once a year on the night of the Seventh Day of the Seventh Month, crossing the Milky Way by a bridge formed by magpies.

②According to the Book of Natural Science (博物志/bó​wùzhì), written by Zhang Hua/张华 (232–300) of the Jin Dynasty, in ancient times the Milky Way was connected with the sea, and people setting out from the sea on a huge wooden raft, would reach Heaven after sailing ten-odd days. There they could catch sight of the Weaving Maid busy at her loom in the palace and the Cowboy herding cattle on the bank of the Heavenly River.

Translated by Jiaosheng Wang.

Here is all the ci/词 and responses to it on this blog.



xíng xiāngzǐ qīxì Lǐ Qīngzhào
Cǎo jì míng qióng, jīng luò wútóng, zhèng rénjiān, tiānshàng chóu nóng. Yún jiē yuè de, guān suǒ qiān zhòng. Zòng fú chá lái, fú chá qù, bù xiāngféng.
Xīng qiáo què jià, jīng nián cái jiàn, xiǎng líqíng, bié hèn nán qióng. Qiān niú zhīnǚ, mò shì lí zhōng. Shén shà er qíng, shà er yǔ, shà er fēng.

To read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

To read  as close as the clouds by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the linke and select “Save link as…”

To read the chapbook Happy Birthday Hanafuda by Andrew Grimes Griffin just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”


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