蝶恋花 . 永夜恹恹欢意少
The Night’s Endless, and Wearying Through
(composed on Shangsi Day at family dinner reunion)
- to the tune of “Butterflies in Love with Flowers”
written by Li Qingzhao （12th century）
trans. by Gordon Osing and Julia Min
The night’s endless, and wearying through,
I dreamed of Chang'an, the familiar routes.
It's Spring, and Nature's return to soothe
in poetry motion，in shining blooms,
the faint shadows of a cloudless moon.
Casual as humble were the food and mood,
our minds were in the wine and tart prunes.
Mock me not, ye flowers I did, tipsily amused;
The pity is ye season, be beautiful as ye could,
like any golden time, would grow old too soon.
It was perhaps very late at night, or just before dawn after the family celebration on Shangsi Festival (3 March lunar calendar, for driving out evil spirits), another day traditionally given to family gatherings, in the year 1129. Li Qingzhao had escaped from the north staying in Jiankang ( today’s Nanjing City ) where her husband was the mayor. Her home up north was occupied by the Jin invaders. She was in her mid-forties and saw no future that would be better than the difficult life she was living. In fact, this was to be her last Shangsi Festival with Mingcheng, her husband who died only several months later. At the moment of surveying the night dinner hastily prepared in this temporary home, she was seized with the feeling that the failed flower arrangements were mocking her very life. And she was not alone in this.
The sarcastic sensation is subtly revealed in the concluding lines of both stanzas. Spring comes in exuberant blooms as usual, not sharing the despair of the Song people during this turbulent period transiting from the fall of the Northern Song to the new roaming Royal Court of the newly established Southern Song. Li Qingzhao, too, had to follow others to the south, leaving the capital, her home, and the many collections in ten households, forever, in her dream.
1. "Chang an": the ancient Han and Tang capital but here it is figurative, i.e., the Northern Song capital had been at Kaifeng, in what is now Henan Province.
2. "poetry motion"：borrowed from the song " Poetry in Motion" by Mike Anthony and Paul Kaufman a #1 hit song in UK in 1961, most successful recording by Johnny Tillotson and still loved today. It’s also the name of a documentary film (1982)
3. " tart prunes ": sour prunes / plums, i.e. bittersweet enjoyments.