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  • Julia Min

浣溪沙.闺情 Maiden in Love










Maiden in Love

- to the tune of Huanxisha

trans. by Julia Min

Nestled on her hair a mandarin duck pair

are mellowed in sweetness of her face fair.

Her smile is charming like lotus blooming.

One twinkle in her eye tells everything.

In delight she composed some lines in rhyme

filled with her secret longings and yearnings:

“it looks good for a date in the flower garden

when the moon is full and bright this evening.”


Li Qingzhao is well recognized for her talent in describing the minute subtle changes on a maiden’s facial expression. This ci is another good example. The artistic effect is well supported with ‘mandarin duck pair’, a symbol of love, and ‘lotus flower’, a symbol of pure soul in Chinese culture. The language style presents vividly alive a maiden in youthful cheers and sunny mood. She is also timid and shy as a maiden would be for her first love. So, this ci was composed most likely in her teenage years, same period as her ci poem Swinging, and Swinging Done. Similarly critics frowned upon the erotic boisterousness it suggests which was then not expected from a gentle lady like Li Qingzhao. Being a poet of romantic and sentimental school, Li chose to embrace life the natural qualities rather than pretend in any hypocritical way.


1. bǎo yā – original meaning is an incense burner often designed with a duck or a pair of mandarin ducks under lotus flowers on it. Here it refers to the hairpin with duck design on her hairstyle in coils. Another version for it is a duck-shaped hairstyle. A pair of mandarin ducks, a symbol of eternal love, is chosen here as it works best with the context.

2. yuè yí huā yǐng – borrowed from Wang Anshi’s famous poem Spring Night, it means when the moon moves, the flowers’ shadows climbed up the rails where I was restless missing someone. The four character is now an idiomatic phrase often used in love poems.

Pinyin and word-for-word translation

huàn xī shā – the musical tune of Huanxisha;

xiù mù fú róng yī xiào kāi:

xiù mù – embroidery curtain; fú róng - lotus flower; yī xiào kāi - open with one smile; xié wēi bǎo yā qīn xiāng sāi:

xié wēi – leaning on the side, bǎo yā – lovely duck,qīn xiāng sāi – touching / kissing the cheeks that smell so sweet

yǎn bō cái dòng bèi rén cāi:

yǎn bō - eye beams; cái dòng - just moved ; bèi rén cāi - was already guessed what it is

yī miàn fēng qíng shēn yǒu yùn:

yī miàn fēng qíng – a face look in love; shēn yǒu yùn- deep with graceful charm;

bàn jiān jiāo hèn jì yōu huái

bàn jiān – half of the letter; jiāo hèn – girly coquet, affectionate;jì yōu huái – send her secret longings for him;

yuè yí huā yǐng yuē chóng lái

yuè yí huā yǐng – the moon moves the flower shadow; yuē chóng lái – to meet again


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