品令 . 零落残红
The Fallen Crimson Rouged the Ground of Mud
- to the tune of Pinling
written by Li Qingzhao
trans. by Julia Min
The fallen crimson rouged the ground of mud.
As in every spring, they’re born to die to dust.
The willows let their catkins travelling free,
and bamboo shoots will soon be new trees.
Again in her boudoir she’ll be alone to see
her garden taken by a world of grief green.
Ambition never fills. I know you can’t stay,
and your leaving is coming close by the day.
If graced in sweet dreams I’d join you again,
a thousand miles away, to your city, your place,
to the stream winding the wall in hidden shade,
and ripple waves to your heart for a misty gaze.
Another poem on spring grief at the end of the season, popular in sentimental poetry. Springtime is the season of life and death, a season of oxymoron. Life’s cycle has its governing rules to make new life thrive upon the old and worn. Every rebirth contains some level of death. Li Qingzhao surely understands this as she is indeed a master of the minor-key sensations of romantic ripples in the heart, of melancholy, of boudoir love and regrets.
The subjects mentioned often bear symbolic meanings, serving like a pun in the context. The fallen crimson represents the passing of spring years in one’s life time, the romantic season of lovers. Willow catkins here refers to the man with official duties who have no control over his destiny. He has to travel away from home for his ambition. Bamboo shoots here suggests his promising future after some hardship in growth. A world with only green is a spring grief over the thinning and fallen crimsons, hinting the inevitable passing of her rosy days.
This poem reminds me of Christina Rossetti’s poem “ Spring” --- “There’s no time like Spring that passes by, /Now newly born, and now hastening to die. ” and Philip Larkin’s (1922—1985) “The Trees” --- “The trees are coming into leaf / Like something almost being said; / The recent buds relax and spread, / Their greenness is a kind of grief.”
1. ‘ambition never fills’: from the Mexican proverb -- ‘Ambition never has its fill’, meaning here the pursuit of man’s ambition has no ending; the desire can’t be filled.
Pinying and Word -For-Word Translation: