Punchline: A Response to Li Qingzhao’s “Sand of Silk-Washing Brook”

The clouds drifting shift
The moonlight shakes the shadows
Of branches bare in May
I cast words at that bright stone
—not an echo of reply

We joked about who’d
Be the first of us to go
Well the joke’s on me
But no one here is laughing
—even the wind is wordless

I must keep my eyes
Fixed—frozen—a sideways glance
Is all it would take
To give the whole game away
—for pearls to fall in the dark

AGG20150504
(for ZG)

Tune: “Sand of Silk-Washing Brook”
Longing in the Boudoir
By Li Qingzhao①

A smile of happy recollection lights up her face
As she gently draws aside the curtain
Embroidered with blooming lotus,
And leans against the jewelled duck censer,
Her perfumed cheek on her hand, musing.
If she but rolls her eyes
She will immediately give herself away.

That first sweet meeting full of tenderest love!
She might as well send half a page
With endearing reproaches unburdening a pensive heart,
And have him come again
When the moon is moving the flower shadows.

①Translator’s note: This is one of the a-poems attributed to Li Qingzhao whose authenticity is questioned on the ground that the content is unworthy of a woman of her moral status. But it is included in many anthologies because the poet expresses her love boldly in defiance of the feudal shackles of her day and for some exquisite lines which bring out her inmost feelings in a lifelike way.

Translated by Jiaosheng Wang.

Depth Charge: The last line of Li Qingzhao’s poem “月移花影约重来/ When the moon is moving the flower shadows” alludes to a line from a novel by Tang Dynasty writer元稹/Yuan Zhen (779 –831), “The Biography of Xing Xing,” considered to be the first novel in Chinese to explore the inner  psychology of its characters: “待月西厢下,迎风户半开。拂墙花影动,疑是玉人来/I wait beneath the moonlight by the Western Chamber,  a door swings open in the breeze, brushing the wall flowers  the shadows shake, I mistake it for her approach.” Yuan Zhen’s most famous poems are three elegies he wrote to the memory of his dead wife. My poem was particularly influenced by Elegy II.

浣溪沙·李清照
绣面芙蓉一笑开,斜飞宝鸭衬香腮。眼波才动被人猜。
一面风情深有韵,半笺娇恨寄幽怀。月移花影约重来。

Huànxīshā·Lǐ Qīngzhào
Xiù miàn fúróng yīxiào kāi , xié fēi bǎo yā chèn xiāng sāi . Yǎnbō cái dòng bèi rén cāi.
Yīmiàn fēngqíng shēn yǒu yùn , bàn jiān jiāo hèn jì yōu huái . Yuè yí huāyǐng yuē chóng lái.

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