新荷叶.薄露初零 You came to the world on this day of Qiufen
You came to the world on this day of Qiufen
- to the tune of ‘New Lotus Leaves’
written by: Li Qingzhao ( 1084 – 1155?) translated by Julia Min
You came to the world on this day of Qiufen
when day and night share the same length.
and the first dews in a year start to appear
by streams winding to mansions and pavilions here, -
a live vision of the fairyland, Penglai Islands.
Amid the gifts like Ganoderma and boat orchards,
and guests with jeweled hairpins and tablet scepters,
the hall is served by girls in silk like floating angels.
I wish to bless you live long as crane and pine
and your spirit illuminating like the autumn moon.
So well-received in the capital are your articles
on morality and integrity, so crucial for our officials.
The recluse in Mount East named Anshi, I recall,
returned stronger than those in Royal Court.
Would you answer the call of the Song like a hero
leaving this fairyland to save the shaking world?!
This ci poem was composed in 1108 when Li Qingzhao was 25 years old and was enjoying the happiest period of her married life, in Qingzhou. It could be a celebration of Chao Buzhi’s birthday which is in autumn. Chao, one of the four followers of Su Dongpo, was living in seclusion then, a time of political turmoil when the New Law was implemented and the old party (Yuanyou Party), on the other side, went out of favor of the Throne. These were still influential people who chose either to retire to live a secluded life or to be sent to a minor post far away from the Court. Su Dongpo, as the leader was despatched to a place as far as the Emperor could find in the Song map, ‘the edge of the world, Hainan Island. At the time of this birthday celebration, Dongpo was dead 7 years ago, and Chao went away two years after this day. The political fight had been fierce like fire and water.
A great poet, Chao also wrote a thesis on Ci, which could be of some impact on Li Qingzhao who later wrote the most influential thesis “On Ci Poetry” in Chinese history. She is the first one with the courage to put forward the statement that Ci stands alone as a literature form as poetry. Ci is similar to western lyric songs but more crafted with strict rhyming meters and patterns which suit into a few hundreds of tunes variegated into more sub-tunes. The tunes are fixed patterns for poets to compose more ci songs. So adding new songs to old tunes was the most popular intellectual entertainment in the Song’s society. As long as the singing girl is familiar with the tune, she could spontaneously sing a new song to the tune for the occasion.
The subject of the poem starts with congratulations on Chao’s birthday and concluded with powerful lines wishing the birthday man to leave his secluded corner for the chaotic world， to fight against the deceitful officials. The shifting of the two themes, I could imagine, would be well-received by the gracious guests but dejected gentlemen in the hall when this ci lyric was sung by the singing girl.
Again, Li Qingzho proves to be a lady of time and tides, contrasting her image as a sentimental woman of woe in her chamber at a time of loss.
1. Qiufen: An equinox is one of the two days in the year (the mid-spring and the mid-autumn) when day and night are of equal length as in the equator. This poem refers to autumn mid-split as hinted by the ‘first dews’ and the ‘autumn moon’.
2. Ganoderma and boat orchards: symbolic of longevity, and pure and elegant quality; Most boat orchards bloom in spring, with only rare species blooming in autumn.
3. jeweled hairpins and tablet scepters: meaning high officials, to hint the birthday person is someone of high influence;
4. crane and pine: both represent longevity;
5. autumn moon: Chinese believe that the autumn moon is brightest because the season is drier with lighter clouds cleared of mist, so the sky looks higher and clearer and the moonlight could get through best. Thus, the Moon Festival is in autumn.
6. Anshi: his last name was Xie, a well-remembered man in the Jin Dynasty. The famous expression ‘retain power after seclusion in Mount East’(东山再起) originates from here. Our poet borrows the story to urge Chao to retain the power to save the turbulent world.
xīn hé yè
báo lù chū líng ，
chǎng xiāo gòng 、yǒng zhòu fèn tíng 。
rào shuǐ lóu tái ，
gāo sǒng wàn zhàng péng yíng 。
zhī lán wéi shòu ，
xiāng huī yìng 、zān hù yíng tíng 。
huā róu yù jìng ，
pěng shāng bié yǒu pīng tíng 。
hè shòu sōng qīng ，
jīng shén yǔ 、qiū yuè zhēng míng 。
dé háng wén zhāng ，
sù chí rì xià shēng míng 。
dōng shān gāo dǎo ，
suī qīng xiàng 、bú zú wéi róng 。
ān shí xū qǐ ，
yào sū tiān xià cāng shēng 。