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  • Julia Min

浪淘沙 .素约小腰身 Shaped and Poised for Grace, Slim and Serene

浪淘沙 .素约小腰身







一缕轻云。 歌巧动朱唇,





Shaped and Poised for Grace, Slim and Serene

- to the tune of Langtaosha

written by Li Qingzhao ( 12th century)

trans. by Julia Min

Shaped and poised for grace, slim and serene,

she’d rather bloom in snow than red and green.

The Moon gently touches her thinly blossoms,

adorning her jade complexion for the evening.

Light clouds on boughs in poetry motion,

her ease of bearing sways the expression.

Was it her rosy lips or her mellow singing,

the song so sensual in pettish association.

On the road covered with peach blossoms,

her gaze lingers to the port of his leaving.

In regret she looks up towards the Moon,

wishing the Goddess light his sail of return.



This poem is recorded in poetry collections either under Li Qingzhao or under Mr Zhao Zifa. The subject is considered as erotic verse by some scholars, to which I hold a different opinion. Ci poetry started with erotic style as rooted in the earliest lyric songs in the country, but transformed and transcended through the Tang and especially the Song to a socializing entertainment for the aristocratic families,the intellectual class and the Court. It had been written to be sung by the singing girls on celebrating occasions, but the words have proved to live longer than the music, and they stand independently like any other poem without music, if not more favoured by the Chinese. I regret to say, all the hundreds of musical tunes are all lost in the river of history due to the invasions. Sometimes I just wish they could be found in some Song tomb newly excavated. The tunes mentioned today have become invalid references, just a hint they once did exist.

This ci is about a young woman yearning for her husband who has been away for official duties after Chinese New Year. The first stanza introduces the plum trees blooming in early spring hinting her age being young, and her good carriage and elegant taste coming from a good family breeding. The second stanza highlights a pretty lady singing a song while, perhaps, dancing under the bright moon in her courtyad. The man she longs for comes to the scene in the last line which explains everything in the poem. It’s a popular theme but subtly expressed and well-structured though simple language is used as in many other poems of the Song dynasties. The words used are not found in Li Qingzhao’s dictionary remained today, so I have doubts about the source. It’s a beautiful poem, so here it is, the English translation. Enjoy!


1.  李清照文集 作者:(北宋)李清照著,刘振鹏
2   《李清照集笺注》李清照撰,徐培均笺注; 2002年上海古籍出版社



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