Monday, October 31, 2011

Romance of the City

Old buildings, ripe new
The creation, destruction,
Romance of New York


Taken near the massive Hudson Yards construction project using long exposure as a bus passes by, crane above the empty yard visible through the lights and old buildings in the background.

Reflection

Woods green, orange, and gold
Clear sky and lake reflection
Mirror on my soul

The Whisper

The whisper, hidden,
Slipping softly down a slope:
Quiet snowy stream.


Taken along Seven Lakes Drive, New York

In honor of Halloween, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven"

Just as Christmas wouldn’t be complete without Auld Lang Syne, Halloween wouldn’t be complete without The Raven (despite the poem being set in December).



The Raven
by Edgar Allen Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
’Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly I had tried to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow — sorrow for the lost Lenore —
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me — filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
’Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door —
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door; —
This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you” — here I opened wide the door; —
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”
Merely this, and nothing more.

Then into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon I heard again a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore —
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind, and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not an instant stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door —
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door —
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore —
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning — little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no sublunary being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door —
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered — not a feather then he fluttered —
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Other friends have flown before —
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

Wondering at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster — so, when Hope he would adjure,
Stern Despair returned, instead of the sweet Hope he dared adjure —
That sad answer, “Nevermore!”

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust, and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore —
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by angels whose faint foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite — respite and Nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Let me quaff this kind Nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil! —
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted —
On this home by Horror haunted — tell me truly, I implore —
Is there — is there balm in Gilead? — tell me — tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us — by that God we both adore —
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore —
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting —
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted — nevermore!

The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry

This one looks interesting.


Penguin's books are usually high quality with useful introductions. With the great increases in literacy throughout the world, there has been an explosion in quality literature over the last century. I like anthologies very much because they are a great value for the variety of literature you get in one volume, they come with interesting essays and historical context, and they expose you to authors you might not have found on your own. When I have time, I'll put together a list of other books and anthologies I enjoy.


'The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry'
edited by Rita Dove
Penguin, 656 pp., $40

Most introductions, especially introductions to poetry collections, are written to be ignored. No one picks up an anthology looking forward to a terrific introduction: The whole point is the poems, after all, not the editor's ruminations and explanations.

Don't skip this one. Rita Dove's introduction to "The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry" is worth the price of the book all by itself. She gives a sensitive, engaging short course in a century of poetry. She acknowledges her own preferences without claiming them as definitive, and she leads us to discoveries of our own.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Seven Lakes Drive, New York

Wet snow, winding road,
Stopping near Wilderness Church:
Fearful, a deer flees.


Taken on a visit to Seven Lakes Drive in New York, near the Church of the Wilderness. The scenery was spectacular, with a rare mix of multi-colored foliage and snow on a clear, sunny day. This was taken from the sunroof; I tried to go outside to get a better picture, but the deer ran away, followed by its fawn (not pictured).

One I wrote for my college literary journal, many moons ago

TiInCsKaDnOiNtGy

dong
tick tick
CLOCK dong (TIME)
dong tick dong tick
tick (IS) dong STRIKES
tick tick dong
(RUNNING) tick
dong dong tick
dong ELEVEN tick
dong dong
(OUT)
tick tock






Note: This was an impressionist work I wrote as a college student. It came to me suddenly as an old grandfather clock was striking eleven.

"The Stranger" by Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957)

This is a poem beautiful in its sadness, empathy, and understanding of xenophobia. It tells of a woman who's come to live in the local community from a far away land, speaking forever with an accent and a native tongue that's unintelligible. Her god is not their God and she never blends in with the community. She's always a stranger, even in death.

My translation

The Stranger

She speaks with hints of barbarous seas,
of unknown seaweed and unknown sand;
she prays to a weightless, bulk-less god,
aged as if she were dying.
In the garden of ours made strange,
she’s put cactus and clawing herbs.
She breathes the breath of desert
and has loved with a whitening passion
that’s never been told and if told,
would be like the map of another star.
She will live among us eighty years,
but will always be like she’s arriving,
Speaking a language that grasps and groans
that only the beasts can understand.
Among us she’s going to die,
in a night she’s suffering the most,
with fate her only pillow,
a death quiet and strange.

Original Spanish

La Extranjera

Habla con dejo de sus mares bárbaros, 
con no sé que algas y no sé que arenas; 
reza oración a dios sin bulto ni peso, 
envejecida como si muriera. 
En huerto nuestro que nos hizo extraño, 
ha puesto cactus y zarpadas hierbas. 
Alienta del resuello del desierto 
y ha amado con pasión de que blanquea, 
que nunca cuenta y que si nos contase 
sería como el mapa de otra estrella. 
Vivirá entre nosotros ochenta años, 
pero siempre será como si llega, 
Hablando lengua que jadea y gime 
y que le entienden sólo bestezuelas. 
Y va a morirse en medio de nosotros, 
en una noche en la que más padezca, 
con sólo su destino por almohada, 
de una muerte callada y extranjera.

The Snowy Foliage

Leaves red, orange, and green
Sprinkle patches white between
Early autumn snow


Taken at a cabin along Seven Lakes Drive, New York.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

On the First Snow, My Little Picasso

Manhattan covered white,
A canvas clean and bright.
My dog's a painter now:
The ground, yellow and brown.

Basho's first snow on a bridge not finished

Basho wrote this one while living near a bridge being constructed in Fukugawa, Japan.

My translation

Bridge being built—
Above,
The first snow.

Original Japanese

初雪や懸けかかりたる橋の上

Pronunciation


Hatsu yuki ya
Kake kakaritaru
Hashi no ue

Literal translation

First snow and
Erecting(1)
Bridge’s above

(1)  Many possible meanings for this, including hanging, hoisting, sitting, covering, catching, erecting, holding.

The emperor and his parted lover

This one by Li Yu (李煜), last emperor of the Southern Tang dynasty, expresses his sadness at being apart from his lover and unable to join her.

My Translation

I climb the western wing
Silent and alone;
The sickle moon,
A single tree,
A courtyard deep,
An autumn—peaceful, shackled.

The cut continues,
My thoughts chaotic,
This parting pain—
The flavor of my heart.

Original Chinese

无言独上西楼,
月如钩,
寂寞梧桐,
深院锁清秋。

剪不断,
理还乱,
是离愁,
别是一般滋味在心头。

Pronunciation


Wú yán dú shàng xi lóu,
Yuè rú gōu,
Jìmò wútóng,
Shēn yuàn suǒ qīngqiū.

Jiǎn bùduàn,
Lǐ hái luàn,
Shì líchóu,
Bié shì yībān zīwèi zài xīntóu.

Literal Translation

Not speak alone up western multi-story-building,
Moon like hook(1),
Lonely(2) Pawlonia tree,
Deep(3) courtyard lock(4) clear(5) autumn.

Cut(6) not interrupt,
Reason(7) still(8) chaotic(9),
Is parting sorrow(10)
Leaving(11) is common feeling(12) in heart

Alternative readings:

(1)  Sickle
(2)  Still, desolate, quiet, solitary
(3)  Close, late, profound
(4)  Padlock, shackles, chains
(5)  Pure, clean, peaceful
(6)  Scissors,  divide, separate, to wipe out or exterminate
(7)  Texture, grain of wood, inner essence, intrinsic order, logic, truth, to manage, to pay attention to, to put in order
(8)  Yet, even more, in addition, even, also
(9)  in confusion or disorder, upheaval, illicit sexual relations, random, arbitrary
(10) Literally the two characters mean “strange, elegant, rare” and “anxiety.” Together they mean “parting sorrow” or “pain of separation”
(11) Departing, being apart
(12) Flavor, taste

Friday, October 28, 2011

Springing Legs (Tan Tui or 彈腿)

Tan Tui (Springing Legs or Snapping Legs) is a basic kung fu form (a choreographed shadowboxing sequence). It is a very good conditioning exercise, good for cardiovascular health, balance, rhythm, coordinated movement, stretching and strengthening the muscles, and developing long punches and kicks. It can be done purely for health or as supplemental training to a martial arts regimen. Of course, to learn practical self-defense, you cannot just practice drills and shadowboxing; you need sparring (practice fighting). As part of the Northern Chinese Long Fist system, it emphasizes long movements, punches, and kicks.

Tan Tui was originally created by Muslim Chinese and practiced by those who served as guards protecting the trade caravans going in and out of China following the Silk Road leading through Central Asia. It is now a core part of most Northern Shaolin Kung Fu curricula. There are various styles but the one below is very similar to the one my school practices, with the main exception being that their kicks are lower.

The summer of royals

Empress Jito (645-702 AD) was one of only eight empresses in Japan. In Japan, the emperor follows male succession, so the empresses were in place only temporarily until a male emperor could take power.

This poem symbolically talks about royal succession. In Japanese religion, Kagu is the mountain of a stone door, behind which is the Sun Goddess, who bore the first Japanese emperor. Thus, all Japanese royalty are descended from gods in Japanese religion.

In the poem, the speaker sees the summer robes drying and realize that spring has past without realizing it. The mention of Mount Kagu, where the royal family comes from, gives it a royal meaning.  

My Translation

By Empress Jito

Spring has past
And summer began;
The strange, shining
Robes of royals dry—
Kagu, perfumed mountain of the sky.

Original Japanese

持統天皇

春過ぎて
夏来にけらし
白妙の
衣ほすてふ
天の香具山

Pronunciation




Jitou Tennou

Haru sugite
Natsu kinikerashi
Shiro-tae no
Koromo hosu chou
Ama no kagu-yama

Literal Translation

Empress Jito (645-702 AD)

Spring has past
Summer  kicked off
White cloth’s(1)
Clothes drying
Heavens’s Fragrant Ingredient Mountain(2)

(1) The characters can be read separately as “white delicate,” “white exquisite,” or “white mysterious”
(2) Or Heaven’s Kagu Mountain, using Kagu as a name

A scary one to translate :P

By Manuel Gonzáles Prada:

My translation

He who translates badly
Plays the role of lackey
Robed in clothes grotesquely
Mocking the poet with "love."

Spanish original

Google Translator: press speaker button to listen

Mal traductor de poeta
Hace papel de lacayo
Grotescamente vestido
Con los arreos del amo.

Literal translation

Bad translator of poet
Makes role of lackey
Grotesquely dressed
With the trappings of love.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Manhattan View

The burning embers
Of clouds light the darkened sky:
This cold, autumn night.


Note: This came to mind while walking my dog at night along the river facing  Manhattan, seeing the dark sky with clouds yellow and orange, as if burning embers, from the reflected lights of the city below.

Wall Street Journal: Lost and Found in Translation

From the article:

A Russian friend of mine once tried to improve his English by studying T.S. Eliot's "Preludes." He already knew a translation by heart, and he liked to recite, with great reverberating passion, a line about how the streetlamps of London glowed like luminous jellyfish at the bottom of the ocean. When he reached the corresponding passage of the English text, he was shattered. All it said was: "And then the lighting of the lamps." No jellyfish, no ocean. Evidently the Russian translator had found Eliot's austere original to be insufficiently poetical and had decided to goose it up. My friend felt doubly betrayed—first by Eliot, because his poem was not so interesting after all; then by the translator, because his beautiful line was a fake.

This is an experience many of us have when reading great works in translation. We're troubled by a creeping, paranoid anxiety that we're not really experiencing the work, that we're being fooled. Does the "Divine Comedy" or "The Tale of Genji" really mean anything like what the translator says it means? How can we be sure, when we don't know the original language and never will?

Yosa Buson's haiku: The sound of water falling

My translation: 

All around,
The waterfall’s sound.
A leaf, so young.

Or:

Near and far, I hear
The sound of water falling:
A leaf, so young.


Yosa Buson’s original Japanese

をちこちに滝の音きく若葉かな 


Pronunciation


Ochikochi ni
Taki no oto kiku
Wakaba kana


Literal

Near far
Waterfall’s sound hear
Young leaf, ah(1)

(1) Kana is a sound or expression of a sigh, like ah!, alas!, how!

Hearing the lark sing

This is a cute little haiku from Basho observing the non-stop singing of the lark, which he never gets tired of listening to, and the lark also never gets tired of singing, no matter how long the day (it’s a double meaning).


My Translation

Endless day—
The chirping, never enough.
Ah, the lark.


Original Japanese

永き日も囀り足らぬひばり哉


Pronunciation


Nagaki hi mo
Saezuri taranu
Hibari kana


Literal

Long days
Chirping, just short of
Lark, alas! 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The story behind the poem on the Statue of Liberty

New York Times: How a Sonnet Made a Statue the ‘Mother of Exiles’


The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, 1883

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Japanese poem: Autumn in the Field (in the tanka form)

This poem is attributed to the Emperor Tenji in the famous 1235 AD anthology of Japanese poetry, One Hundred People, One Verse Each, but it is unlikely to have actually been written by him and is more likely taken from a folk song. Like all Japanese poems at the time, it is written in tanka form, with syllables following 5-7-5-7-7 pattern.

There are different interpretations of the poem, but mine is that it tells the story of a peasant working the field, taking occasional refuge in a skimpy hut, wiping away the tears from his hard life on his sleeve. Another is that the speaker is all alone is his ramshackle hut in the fields, away from his love, making his sleeves wet with tears.


Interpretive Translation

Autumn in the field,
At harvest, my hut is a
Coarse-roofed hermitage.
And my sleeves,
Wet with dew.

Original Japanese

秋の田の かりほの庵の 苫をあらみ わが衣手は 露にぬれつつ

Pronunciation



aki no ta no
kariho no io no
toma wo arami
waga koromode wa
tsuyu ni nuretsutsu

Literal translation

Autumn’s field’s
Hut’s(1)  hermitage’s
Thatched roof is crude
My sleeve
Of dew(2) becomes wet

(1)    The same pronunciation can also mean “harvested ears of grain”
(2)    Can mean “tears” figuratively.

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer's "I'm fiery, brunette"

This poem by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-1870) is about wanting the unobtainable in love. Here is a beautiful musical version in Spanish:



The translation is pretty straightforward in this case and doesn't differ too much from the literal translation, except for some rearrangement and omissions to improve flow, so I don't include the literal translation.


My translation

Rhyme 11

“I'm fiery, brunette,
the symbol of passion,
my soul is full, of pleasure craving.”
Are you looking for me?”
                                         “No, it’s not you, no.”

'My face is white, my tresses golden,
The things I can give are endless.
Tender for you, I keep a treasure.
Do you call me?”
                                         No, no it’s not you.”

“I am a dream, impossible,
a vain phantom of mist and light.
I am bodiless, intangible,
I cannot love you.”
                                        “Oh come, come, it’s you!”


Original by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

Rima XI

—Yo soy ardiente, yo soy morena,
yo soy el símbolo de la pasión,
de ansia de goces mi alma está llena.
¿A mí me buscas?
                                        —No es a ti, no.
—Mi frente es pálida, mis trenzas de oro,
puedo brindarte dichas sin fin.
Yo de ternura guardo un tesoro.
¿A mí me llamas?
                                        —No, no es a ti.
—Yo soy un sueño, un imposible,
vano fantasma de niebla y luz.
Soy incorpórea, soy intangible,
no puedo amarte.
                                        —¡Oh ven, ven tú!


------------------------------

Incidentally, the poem reminds me of the Rolling Stones song, "You Can't Always Get What You Want"



The joy of translating

Translating poetry is a special pleasure, both for its challenge and its beauty. It is impossible to take a poem in one language a duplicate it in another, even in closely related languages. The more different the languages are, the more hopeless that effort becomes. Thus, in translating, one is essentially creating a new poem, but with the challenge of staying true to the original while sounding nice in its new tongue. In doing the preparation to attempt a good translation, one gains a deeper appreciation for both the original and the nuances of one's own language.

To begin, I read the original many times to improve my understanding of the meaning it is conveying, the emotion of each line, and how the structure of the sounds and the words contribute to the feeling and meaning. After that, I like to make a literal translation, word-for-word into English, both to clarify my understanding and to see how the raw materials flow when the meaning is as faithful as possible. However, even just a literal translation is often difficult because words, especially in poetry, can often be interpreted in different ways, might have culture-specific references or allusions, and even words with the same meaning might be used in a different context.

A literal translation is useful, and I always like to show the literal translation. However, so much of poetry is sound and emotion that a literal translation alone really doesn't do the original justice. To convey the sense of the poem as best as possible, I attempt a figurative or interpretive translation as well, trying to balance the flow in English with staying true to the emotion and meaning of the original. Of course, the original can never be recreated, but, if successful, a good translation will give a taste of what awaits the reader should he delve into the original.

Finally, I like to include the pronunciation because, no matter what I would like, it is simply impossible to recreate the native sound. With the advent of Youtube, it is now often possible to find a native speaker reading the original, complete with sound and emotion. When not possible, Google Translator has recently added an audio feature that does a pretty good job of showing the right pronunciation, minus the melody and rhythm.

In the Jewelry District

Walking down the diamond street,
Humanity's depth falls all around.
I look into the faces of those I meet,
Not trusting a soul that walks the ground.

(a leaf falls) loneliness - E.E. Cummings

l(a

le
af
fa
ll

s)
one
l

iness 


This is one of E.E. Cummings' poems influenced by the imagist movement that paints a visual image with the words of the poem. The movement in turn was partially influenced by Japanese haiku that attempts to capture a single image in the poem and the feeling it conveys.

Combining the letters into a normal sentence, the poem can be read as either "loneliness (a leaf falls)" or "(a leaf falls) loneliness." The image of the letters as arranged is one of a a single leaf falling as well, twisting side to side, flat and horizontal, before finally settling on the ground (the longest letter grouping is at the bottom, where the leaf would be lying down). You can also see some of the leaf twisting in the second stanza by alternative "af" and "fa" and alternating consonants with vowels.

Aside from the striking visual image itself, the poem reinforces the solitary image of loneliness by repeatedly emphasizing the concept of one. This poem is set in typewriter format, which makes the lowercase L look like the number 1. The first line breaks up a "l" and an "a," both singular concepts. The last line of the second stanza is "ll" -- one repeated. The third stanza has "one" for its second line and "l" for its third line. Finally, the last part of the poem can be read as "oneliness" since the "l" of loneliness is hidden at the beginning of the poem behind parentheses and forgotten.

Gaze

The languorous touch
Of your lips lock me in silence.
You stop, face lost of sense,
Resting, pillowed,
Seeing the distance.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Caught in the Rain (Basho)

My Translation

Missing my hat,
Caught in the cold rain.
What the hell…

Original Japanese

笠もなきわれを時雨るるかこは何と

Pronunciation


Kasa mo naki
Ware wo shigururu ka
Ko ha nan-to

Literal

Hat also none
I am in a wintry shower
What a thing

Enchanted Lady

This poem tells the story of a man visiting his lover, who cannot leave the palace. It was written by Li Yu (937–978 AD), last emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty, and probably directed to his lover, his wife's sister and a woman renowned for her beauty. 

Li's true interest was literature and pleasure; he was never interested in politics or running the state and only became emperor by accident after several relatives died. Later, his life turned sad as his wife died and his kingdom fell to the Song Dynasty. He was imprisoned there, with his lover. Worse yet, when the Song emperor died, his cruel brother took over and frequently raped Li's lover. Finally, he died by poisoning.


Interpretive Translation

Enchanted Lady
By Li Yu

Enchanted lady, trapped in the palace above,
You sleep in silence, alit by the sun in a painted hall.
Your pillow spread with shining clouds of jade,
Clothes embroidered, and perfume scented rare.

Secretly I come and lift your jeweled lock,
And wake you, startled from your dreaming screen.
Little by little, our faces smile around,
Seeing each other with passion unbound.

Original Chinese

李煜

蓬莱院闭天台女,
画堂昼寝人无语。
抛枕翠云光,
绣衣闻异香。 

潜来珠锁动,
惊觉银屏梦。
脸慢笑盈盈,
相看无限情。

Pronunciation

Péng lái yuàn bì tiān tái nǚ,
Huà táng zhòu qǐn rén wú yǔ.
Pāo zhěn cuì yún guāng,
Xiù yī wén yì xiāng.

Qián lái zhū suǒ dòng,
Jīng jué yín píng mèng.
Liǎn màn xiào yíng yíng,
Xiāng kàn wú xiàn qíng.

Literal Translation

Peng-lai(1) courtyard closed heaven platform(2) female,
Painting hall daytime lie-down person not speak.
Throw pillow jade-green cloud bright,
Embroidered clothes smell rare perfume.

Secretly come jeweled lock move,
Wake-up startled silver screen dream.
Face slow smiling all all
Mutual look no limit passion

(1) Penglai is a city and also the name of some mythical, enchanted islands
(2) Tientai can mean a place name or “heaven platform.” Mt. Tiantai was the center of Tientai Buddhism, and is so related to the poem’s title.