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  • Julia Min

满庭芳 . 小阁藏春 My chamber is dormant from spring

满庭芳 . 小阁藏春





















My chamber is dormant from spring

- to the tune of Mantingfang

translated by Julia X. Min

My chamber is dormant from spring,

windows neglected with curtains undrawn.

A quietness distilled in the drawing-room,

the day lapses away, imperceptibly as gloom,

until the incense becomes ashes after noon,

until the sun descends to the curtain hook.

The plum trees look cosier planted with my own hands;

So why bother the waterside towers with the crowd?

If you knew the mind of He Xun amid Yangzhou’s blooms,

the best friends for the moment are Quietude an’ Solitude.

As much she is blessed with beauty and strength,

she’s no match for the chasing gale and rain.

And a passing sound of flute plays the sad tune

“The Falling of Plum Blossoms”… …

Tears won’t stop the fragrance fading away.

Imperceptibly they came to your view;

Imperceptibly they leave without a trace -

beyond words as always when we face eternal truth.

Just hold on and enjoy,as we should if we could,

the scanty shadow of noble grace under the pale moon.


This lyric poem reflects our poet’s real life moment in her later years not long after her husband’s death, or after she settled in Lin’an(today’s Hangzhou). Some scholars identified it as an earlier creation to which I can’t agree. The understanding comes from the turning point in the middle of each stanzas, indicating her positive effort in recovering from her grief-stricken state of mind. Such a transfer shows a transcending spirit from harrowing woes to an accepting attitude towards reality and a readiness to move forward, a state often seen in our lives after 40 or 50 , especially after twists and turns through loss and gains. This is heightened in the concluding lines where we are led to see the inner strength of our poet on a philosophical level.

The first four lines presents a gentle lady trapped in her own consuming thoughts in the drawing room where all what remained in their collections are kept. Her husbands’ unexpected death and her lost homeland have now just memories,leaving her alone in her forties for a future of potential recovery, or more mistrustfully, further loss and grief. Memories of their happy days are woven into every texture there. She has no interest in spring outing as she used to do with her friends. The front part of the second stanza depicts a similar melancholy. The falling of the plum blossoms indicates her spring days in life are gone. Then, a wakening shift follows -- she realises she can’t give up just yet. She decides to put her past to the past and enjoy her aloneness from the chaos of the world and live the moment. Although her blooming years are behind her, she would cherish what she has got and maintain a reclusive life style with noble grace. Such a state could be well explained with Lao Zi’s words: If you feel miserable, you live in the past; if you are anxious, you live in the future; if you are peaceful, you are living in the present. As we know she called herself the Recluse Yi’an, a Daoist pursuit shared by many great men in their later years including Su Dongpo who loves the lifestyle of Tao Yuanmin. Now we may also see the connection where Yi’an favorite flowers are also the chrysanthemum and the plum blossoms, especially in her later years. Such is my interpretation of her mind state as exposed in this poem. I’m also aware of different opinions which could be a result of their presumption of Yi’an’s tragic image. Interestingly, you would surely come to a new conclusion by imagining it was written by Su Shi.

This poem also reminds me of the poems by Emily Dickinson “After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes” and “As Imperceptibly as Grief” from where I borrowed some expressions in my translation to sparkle the connection. A comparison of the two poets could yield overwhelming discovery. Emily was not able to get out of her melancholy, even on the verge of leaving for heaven, which perhaps also explains why Li Qingzhao lived much longer.


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