青玉案 . 一年春事都来几 How many spring days we have in a year
青玉案 . 一年春事都来几
How many spring days we have in a year
-to the tune of “The Green Jade Table”
written by Li Qingzhao (?Ouyang Xiu)
trans. by Julia Min
How many spring days we have in a year,
and two thirds of that has now disappeared, -
such a precious world of crimson and green!
The weeping willows, combed by cosy breeze,
sway over my courtyard like a green screen, -
so soothing, but why I sense a chill rippling?......
Whatever pleasure, whatever wine in Chang’an,
you can’t feel the same as in a family reunion.
It’s not the east wind driving the running tears;
It’s the blushing apricot and woolly peaches missing.
The night dreams of home return could be comforting,
but, how could any of these beat the real thing!
The 1st stanza ushers in the time and scene with the concluding line triggering the theme. The 2nd stanza focuses on the poet who can’t take pleasure for happiness, which, more often than not, a man’s sigh amid official duties and parties. The subject of the whole poem tells us that no matter how luxurious the life of Chang’an could be, the poet would be happier among family members at homeland.
The language style in general is not as subtle as Li Qingzhao’s other poems, especially in the concluding lines which are too plain to the point, leaving little space for readers’ imagination. Well, men can’t beat a lady’s subtle sensations as we know it. The last line of the first stanza is made more intriguing in this English version, an upgrade to the source text; whereas the final line borrowed Coco Cola’s advertisement for a familiar impression.
As the poem was composed in the Capital where the Royal Court was located, it could be in the Northern Song Dynasty when Ouyang Xiu was promoted as the Secretary General of Hanlin Academy ( a group of national elite who did the highest literary writings for the Royal Court ). Later he was appointed to be the Vice Premier in 1061.
In addition, ‘spring days’ is a pun referring to the youthful days in one’s lifetime; So, ‘two thirds of that’ is a hint that he has passed his prime years, thinking about retiring from the Court and return to his native place, which has always been the Chinese custom as in the saying: “A falling leaf will return to the roots.” It means a man should return to his birth place to join his big family ‘root zone’ upon retirement, or before death.
So my conclusion sees this poem most likely a creation by Ouyang Xiu rather than Li Qingzhao. The composing time could be the later part of his official career in the Capital from 1054 to 1067.
1. ‘the east wind’: the main wind direction in Spring; Since ancient times, Chinese have known that the wind direction changes from east to south in summer, from south to west in autumn and from west to north in winter.
2. ‘Chang’an’: literally the capital of the Tang dynasty in the west of China (today’s Xi’an) but here it refers to the capital of Song, Bianliang ( today’s Kaifeng). Similarly, Chinese sometimes proudly call themselves people of the Tang, and call their China Town overseas ‘Tang Street’ as the Tang dynasty has been the most glorious time in Chinese history.
3. ‘the blushing apricot and woolly peaches’：an image of life in heaven by Jonson in his To Penhurst”; Growing against the stone walls, the branches are so heavily laden with these fruit that they hang low enough for a child to pluck them. Whereas in Chinese culture, peaches and apricot trees are associated with young beauty, flourishing spring image, or a leader / teacher with many followers / students, or homesickness. Here our poet hints that his young days are gone leaving only beautiful memories of his homeland.