Roses Daring Bloom (from Whitman to Genet): A Response to “A Galaxy of Beauties: White Chrysanthemums” by Li Qingzhao

Lilacs by the door
In spring return the fragrant
Mortal reminders
Of Whitman’s comrades of love
In passionate purples doomed

Dark in Reading Gaol
Green carnations for Oscar
Chant for the disgraced
A fatal crisis of love
As dead men do dance on air

Heart buried–not dead–a seed
Bloody with pleasure’s
Uncombed hair–tanned limbs–naked
In lost cities of desire

The full moon lacquers
Unknown Andalusian
Oleanders white
While somewhere Lorca’s corpse sings
For Jack’s cocksucker séance

Langston–3 A.M.
Harlem café with fairies
Prostitutes police
Strange fruit in magnolia nights
Sailors swallowed by the sea

Genet traced their flesh
On stolen scraps of prison
Engraved into red petals
Of spittled love–bloody cum

Roses daring bloom
On trellises of warm flesh
They and I have known
The bold kisses of strangers
Oblivious to the moon


Depth Charge: The original Li Qingzhao peom, below, is the longest in the collection and is dense with historical and literary allusion. My response was a long time coming and is equally dense with reference to the great gay poets and writers: Walt Whitman, AE Housman, Oscar Wilde, CP Cavafy, Federico Garcia Lorca, Jack Spicer, Langston Hughes and Jean Genet.

Tune: “A Galaxy of Beauties”
White Chrysanthemums
by Li Qingzhao

Autumn chill steals into my small chamber,
Curtains hung low as the long night drags on.
It grieves me to see your creamy flesh
Damaged overnight by relentless wind and rain.
You are not like Yang Guifei⑴ flushed with wine,
Sun Shou⑵ with knitted eyebrows,
Jia Wu⑶ who stole royal incense for Han Shou,
Or Lady Xu⑷ who powdered half her face to please a one-eyed emperor.
It would be inappropriate to compare you to these.
On maturer thoughts, your charm may fitly be likened
To that of Qu Yuan and Tao Qian.⑸
Your subtle fragrance, wafted by a soft breeze
Has all the sweetness of blooming raspberries.

Pure as snow, slim as jade, at autumn’s decline, You lean towards people with infinite tenderness
And with as much pathos as the two fairy maidens
Who made a present of their belt pearls
To Zheng Jiaofu at Han Gao⑹
And Lady Pan⑺ writing a mournful poem on a silk fan.
Bright moon, serene breeze may be followed
By thick mists, dark showers.
It is Heaven’s rill that you shall wither
As your scented breath fades away.
There’s no telling how long
Your beauty will yet remain, love you as I may.
But with me as your devoted admirer,
Need you envy the orchids gathered on the riverbank by Qu Yuan,
Or the chrysanthemums picked by Tao Qian beside the cast hedge?

⑴ Yang Guifei, favorite concubine of Emperor Ming Huang of the Tang Dynasty (61 8-907), one of the most famous beauties in Chinese history.
⑵ Sun Shou, rife of Liang Qi in the East Han (25-220), notorious for her coquetry.
⑶ Jia Wu, daughter of a minister in the third century, who stole incense from the Imperial Palace to make love to Han Shou, then a minor official under the minister.
⑷ Lady Xu, a concubine of the one-eyed Emperor of the Liang Dynasty in the sixth century, said to be so coquettish that she powdered half her face to win his favor.
⑸ Qu Yuan, alias Qu Ping, great philosopher and poet of the Kingdom of Chu in the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.). Slandered by his political adversaries, he was out of favor with the king, and his loyal efforts to serve the state were ignored. He was exiled, and finally drowned himself in the river Milo, on whose banks he used to wander listlessly before taking his own life. His “Elegies of Chu,” in which he vented his political grievances, was an immortal contribution to classical Chinese literature.
Tao Qian, alias Tao Yuanming (c .365-427), one of China’s greatest writers of pastoral poetry. Abandoning the post of a petty official he enjoyed the life of a recluse in the quiet of his native fields, and wrote in praise of the simple way of living.
⑹ According to legend, Zheng Jiaofu was presented with belt pearls by two fairy maidens while passing Han G8o in present- day Hubei Province.
⑺ Lady Pan was a concubine of Emperor Cheng of the Han Dynasty (206-24 B.C.). Out of favor with the emperor, she aired her feelings in a poem inscribed on a silk fan. This attracted the emperor’s attention, and she was finally restored to his favor.

Translated by Jiaosheng Wang.

渐秋阑、雪清玉瘦,向人无限依依。似愁凝、汉皋解佩,似泪洒、纨扇题诗。朗月清风,浓烟暗雨,天教憔悴度芳姿。纵爱惜、不知从此,留得几多时?人情好,何须更忆,泽畔东篱 。

Duō lì ·yǒng báijú · Lǐ Qīngzhào
xiǎo lóu hán, yè cháng lián mù dī chuí. Hèn xiāoxiāo , wúqíng fēngyǔ, yèlái róu sǔn qióng jī . Yě bù shì, guìfēi zuì liǎn , yě bù shì, sūn shòu chóuméi . Hán lìng tōu xiāng, xú niáng fùfěn , mò jiāng bǐnǐ wèi xīnqí. Xì kàn qǔ , qūpíng táo lìng , fēngyùn zhèng xiāngyí. Wéifēng qǐ, qīng fēn yùnjí , bù jiǎn tú mí .
Jiàn qiū lán , xuě qīng yù shòu , xiàng rén wúxiàn yīyī. Shì chóu níng, hàn gāo jiě pèi , shì lèi sǎ, wánshàn tí shī . Lǎng yuè qīngfēng, nóng yān àn yǔ, tiān jiào qiáocuì dù fāng zī. Zòng àixī, bùzhī cóngcǐ, liú dé jǐ duōshí? Rénqíng hǎo, héxū gèng yì, zé pàn dōng lí .

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