Sparse Shadows (Lotus leaves)

Zhang, Yan (1248-1318)

    Lotus leaves are round and green. They are naturally clean. Their stems stand tall and serene. The hot summer still leaves its footprints. The young leaves have not yet unfolded the heart of autumn. How much scorching heat can they absorb? The mandarin ducks exchange their secret love talk under the same cover. Do not let silk washing women know 1. Singing sad songs, these women might break the overlapping green clouds and thus the wind that nourishes the flowers' growth.

    I recall the story of Queen Zhao. She danced in the Han palace, raising her flowing sleeves. It seemed that the strong wind would blow her to heaven. Emperor Wen asked his entourage to grab her. They did, wrinkling her skirts 2. My favorite green shirt 3 still retains lingering fragrance. It is a pity that my hair turns white as though snow has drifted on it. The fresh dew on the lotus leaves is like tears. This is another night when the west wind breaks the lotus stems. I love to see the flying moonlight cascade into half of the lake.

1 Gu Zheng's poem says, "We thank for silk washing women for not plucking the lotus leaves./They are able to shelter mandarin ducks in the rain."

2 Queen Zhao's Unofficial Biography says, "While the queen sang the song, 'The Wind Sends Guests a Long Way Home', Emperor Wen tapped a jade basin with chopsticks made of rhinoceros horn. When the emperor had drunk to intoxication, the wind rose. The queen raised her sleeves and said, 'Let me fly to a new dwelling and become a goddess.' Emperor Wen ordered his entourage to grab her skirts. After a while the wind stopped. However, the queen's skirts were wrinkled. The queen said, 'The emperor loves me, so I cannot fly away like a goddess.' Later, the beautiful court ladies made pleated skirts and called them the skirts that retain a goddess."

3 "Green shirt" may refer to lotus leaves or to the shirt Zheng wore when he last saw lotus leaves.