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  • Julia Min

A Chill Wind Woke Me Before Dawn - to the Tune of Langtaosha 浪淘沙·帘外五更风

A Chill Wind Woke Me Before Dawn

- to the Tune of Langtaosha

Translated by Julia Min

A Chill Wind Woke Me Before Dawn 浪淘沙·帘外五更风
Photo retrieved from Google

A chill wind woke me before dawn;

Away my rosy dream was blown.

My feet find the drawing room upstairs,

a glimpse of you in every texture there.

The incense burner is empty and cold,

tho’ my hairpin recalls poking for sweet smoke.

In the distance, a thick mist enfolds

Mt Purple Gold in spring drizzle.

The tears on my dress are hard to hold

like a river awoke to a growing flow.

Could this tippler send across this poem

by the messenger geese flying in rows?


It’s still arguable if this poem was written by Li Qingzhao or Ou Yangxiu as historical records remain insufficient to settle the matter. Contemporary anthologies tend to put it under our lady poet maybe because Mount Purple Gold, the drawing room, hairpin, flooding tears and the general artistic tone associate to a female. Such discussions have probably made this poem even more recognized among other mourning poems.

This ci poem is like a monologue describing a solitary moment of her life. The scene streams in from her bedroom where her good dream is disrupted by chilly wind just before dawn. Filled with grief, she steps upstairs chasing her unfinished dream in the drawing room where she and her love spent so many happy moments together writing poems, playing literary games, enjoying tea and wine. The incense burner used to fill the room with sweet aroma. Happy hours went quickly and often she used her hairpin to poke the incense covered with ash. Now the place is nothing but fresh memory.

The second stanza brings the reader to the moment, to the distant view from the window. Nothing seems changed in the natural world. Mount Purple Gold is still mysteriously beautiful with a misty cloud crown. At the bottom the river, awoke from winter, is now full of vitality. Mother Nature is just happy carrying on with routine, ignoring her loss and the turmoil of the human society during a war between the Song and the Jin. So she turns to the sky where a row of wild geese are flying by. Perhaps she could talk to them for a favor sending this poem to her love now in heaven.

Grief is a part of life, and the most persistent one. In literature, tragedies tend to have a stronger and longer impact on readers than comedies. Emily Dickinson comes to my mind with her famous lines: “Grief is a Mouse—/And chooses Wainscot in the Breast.” And the best poets were often born during dramatic periods of natural disasters or social conflicts. Such, was Li Qingzhao.


The Source Text in Chinese:













Pinying and Word -For-Word Translation:

làng táo shā – the musical tune for this ci poem / song;

lián wài wǔ gèng fēng – wind blows in through the curtain before dawn

chuī mèng wú zōng – blowing away my dream without a trace

huà lóu zhòng shàng yǔ shuí tóng – again I step upstairs to my drawing room

jì dé yù chāi xié bō huǒ – I remember I used my jade hairpin to poke the burning incense

bǎo zhuàn chéng kōng – now Baozhuan Incense is no longer found in the empty burner

huí shǒu zǐ jīn fēng – looking back, I can see Mount Purple Gold from here

yǔ rùn yān nóng – nourished in misty rain and thick fog

yī jiāng chūn làng zuì xǐng zhōng – the river with spring waves is awake from dormant winter like a tippler just awake from a dream;

liú dé luó jīn qián rì lèi – still wet is my dress from tears of the day before

tàn yǔ zhēng hóng – if I could play this song to the flying geese in the sky



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