醉花阴.薄雾浓云愁永昼（重阳） On the Double Ninth Festival
On the Double Ninth Festival
- to the tune of Zuihuayin
written by : Li Qingzhao (1084-1155?)
translated by: Gordon Osing & Julia Min
A light mist and impenetrable heaven weary the day
till Karuing incense is ashes in the golden beast.
On this, the Double Ninth, reunion festival,
our bed’s gauze nets and my dream pillow of jade
are filled already at twilight with midnight's cold.
I took my wine alone in the garden after dusk,
till my sleeves smell the subtle fragrance.
Don't say it doesn't lead the soul away.
When autumn wind raises the curtain, this lady
is drawn as the bitten chrysanths’ golden rays.
This ci is regarded as part of her early works when Li Qingzhao was 20 years old, two years after her wedding. She wrote to express her longings for her husband Zhao Mingcheng who was away on an official appointment. It was a late autumn day which should be shorter every day but seemed the hours pass so slowly as she felt alienated by the usual intimacies of home. She portrays herself as the wan, neglected lady among the last blooming chrysanthemums in the garden. Chinese poets had been captivated by the enduring quality of chrysanthemum. Li Qingzhao is believed to have taken the image to a new level that Chinese readers would tend to associate the flower with her poems or her favourite poet Tao Yuanming’s lines whenever the flower is discussed in literature.
A famous story in Chinese literary folklore attaches to this ci. It seems Zhao Mingcheng felt challenged by this ci’s graceful composition when he received it, and resolved to write one better. He wrote fifty ci in three days' frenzy and gave them to his poet friend Lu Defu to judge the batch, his wife's among them. The great Song scholar returned them saying that in all the collection, only three lines were flawless, and he named the last three lines of this poem. So Mingcheng had to acknowledge his lady had surpassed him in a talent for this art.
In Europe, chrysanthemum was introduced from ancient China into French gardens and onto the vibrant paintings of Impressionists and later, the pages of American novels. The flower, drawing its allure from the golden rays of the sun, also associates supreme power as gold is the ruling colour exclusively used by Chinese emperors. Europeans, however, signify it with both life and death as they use it for mourning while many artists celebrate it for its golden rays that light the autumnal gloom.
1. "chong yang": literarily ‘double sun’, often called "chong jiu" meaning the "Double-Ninth" Festival, the ninth day of the ninth month in the lunar calendar. The figure 9 in Chinese culture signifies the supreme power of the emperor who is also the Father figure for the nation’s big family, the sun for the earth. On this day Chinese would climb the mountains ("deng gao",climb high!). There’s a legendary story behind this that at some ancient time people were told to climb high to avoid impending disaster. They did so and when they returned homes their animals had all been destroyed. The story is similar to that of Noah and the animals in the Biblical flood. A retreat into one of China's scenic mountains is undertaken even these days on the Double Ninth Festival. Family reunions and pilgrimage homes are till annually associated with the ancient holiday. (Several festivals each year carry the expectation of family unity, as you may know.) The "yang" in "chong yang" is the same as the "yang" in "tai yang", "great sun", as also in "yin/ yang", "moon/sun" (used to refer to the feminine, passive / masculine, active) and phases of consciousness. So "chong yang" may mean in English "double masculine", when the order of Heaven and the order of self, family, clan and village are madc one.
2. "nong yun": in some versions "nong, wu", thick fog. "chou": wearied by sadness. "yong zhou": entire day.
3. "rui nao": karuing incense, a good quality incense. "jin shou": golden beast, i.e., gold color incense burner that could be designed with lion head on both sides;
4. "yu zhen": jade pillow, porcelain headrest for sleeping, a transferred epithet for jade (wonderful, ideal) dreaming. "sha chu": a wooden structure over the bed for a gauze net, to keep insects out.
5. "dong li": east fence, referring to her garden where many chrysanthemum are in full bloom. It originates from the famous poet Tao Yuanming’s famous lines“采菊东篱下，悠然见南山” “I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,/Then gaze long at the distant summer hills. ” translated by Arthur Waley）
6. "an xiang": hidden fragrance, often refers to plum blossoms, though the line here must refer to chrysanthemums. Another Song Dynasty poet Lin Po had written in his "Little Plum Trees in the Hill Garden ": "Soft shadows crossing/the shallow, clear waters./ Hidden fragrances floating with the moon after dusk. "ying xiu": filling sleeves, i.e., touching intimately all the body.
7. "xiao hun": hurt spirit, i.e., so much pain the spirit feels removed from the body.
8. "huang hua shou": more than (the frost-bitten chrysanthemum).
Pinyin and word-for-word translation:
zuì huā yīn - to the tune of Zuihuayin (on the Double-ninth Festival)
báo wù nóng yún chóu yǒng zhòu - thin fog dense cloud weary all day long;
ruì nǎo xiāo jīn shòu - borneol is burning out in the golden beast;
jiā jiē yòu zhòng yáng - happy festival another Double Ninth Festival;
yù zhěn shā chú - jade pillow gauze net;
bàn yè liáng chū tòu - midnight cold begins penetrating;
dōng lí bǎ jiǔ huáng hūn hòu - east fence hold wine dusk after;
yǒu àn xiāng yíng xiù - there's hidden fragrance filled sleeves;
mò dào bú xiāo hún - don't say not taking the soul away;
lián juàn xī fēng - curtain rowed west wind;
rén sì huáng huā shòu - the person is chrysanthemum thin;