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  • Julia Min

南歌子·天上星河转The Starry River Turns her Sails














The Starry River Turns her Sails

- To the tune of Nangezi

translated by Julia Min

The Starry River turns her sails

where the spirit of my blessed dwells.

Deep in sleep the Earth seems so still;

Alone I’m awake into midnight chill.

My pillow is wet with tears, so is my night dress,

After changing, my maid persuades me to bed.

Then my eyes touched my gown - the golden threads

on lotus leaves, the seed head left alone by herself...

Alas, this is the very dress of your taste,

So is the season in the same pleasant phase.

Only my heart’s rhymes and vibes go astray,

Without you, the world is never the same.


There are different opinions about the time she wrote this ci. This song poem, in my understanding, was most likely composed soon after her husband’s sudden death in Jiankang ( today’s Nanjing City). She wrote quite a few during this mourning period, and the other one on our list here is A chill wind woke me before dawn (“浪淘沙.帘外五更风”). You could feel these two poems are quite similar in terms of her feelings, language used and the overall style. The vibes are on the same frequency, and even the time of the occasion is about the same. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day in future these two were found creations of the same night. Personally I would allow my six sense join her before I lay down any words on paper, to feel her heart beat, her eye expressions, her tears, her dress, her qin, and ornaments, and the vibes of her chamber before translating into English.


1. xīng hé zhuǎn: the Milky Way / the Star River is making a turn, meaning it has passed midnight;

2. jīn xiāo ǒu yè xī: the lotus leaves embroidered on her night dress shows stems in golden threads. ‘xi’ very few, meaning autumn is on the corner;

Pinying and Word -For-Word Translation:

nán gē zǐ – the musical tune of this song poem;

tiān shàng xīng hé zhuǎn – in the sky the Starry River turns;

rén jiān lián mù chuí – human world curtains / drapes are unrolled /drawn

liáng shēng zhěn diàn lèi hén zī – feel cold pillow and bamboo sheet tears traces all over;

qǐ jiě luó yī – get up change my silk night dress;

liáo wèn yè hé qí – tired and tedious, I ask what time it is;

cuì tiē lián péng xiǎo – fresh green lotus pots small;

jīn xiāo ǒu yè xī – in golden threads the lotus leaves only a few;

jiù shí tiān qì jiù shí yī – old time weather, old time clothes;

zhī yǒu qíng huái – only my feelings;

bú sì jiù jiā shí – unlike old time



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