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Noble Love 1

Tao, Yuan-ming (365-427 CE)


    "Devoted Love" written by Heng Zhang (78-139) and "Serene Love" written by Yong Cai (133-192), are the first poems that avoided dissolute rhetoric and promoted temperance. These poems may indulge themselves in desire at first, but they lead to virtuous etiquette in the end. They can be used to restrain wicked thoughts and teach people to pursue virtuous love. Poets of later generations wrote similar poems to carry their legacy forward. I have plenty of time after farming, so I have also tried to write a similar love poem. Though I am not talented, at least my poem will not violate the original themes.


She is exceedingly beautiful.
Though her beauty is matchless,
She desires to be known as a virtuous woman.
She wears jade pendants at her waist to represent her chastity
And wants her integrity to compare with the fragrance of orchids.
She is indifferent to worldly love
And exhibits principles of high standard.
She laments that the sun moves steadily toward sunset after it rises.
And that human life is burdened with sorrow.
Everyone has to die within one hundred years.
Why do people have ample sorrow and little happiness?
She raises the red curtain and sits upright.
Then she plays her lute to amuse herself.
As her fingers skillfully play the strings,
Her sleeves dance with the music gracefully.
She turns her beautiful eyes to cast her emotion-filled glances.
Her eyes seem to speak or smile.
Halfway to the end of the music,
The image of the sun appears at her west window.
She laments that the autumn wind blows the leaves away
And that clouds disguise beautiful mountains.
After she looks up at the sky,
Her tempo accelerates.
She looks charming and graceful.
Her manner is serene and enchanting.
Moved by the music,
I wish to sit close to communicate with her.
I yearn to visit her dwelling and propose to her,
But I worry that it may violate protocols.
I wish the phoenix could deliver my proposal,
But I worry that someone else will precede me.
Perplexed and discomposed,
I change my mind many times in a moment.

I wish I could be the collar of her blouse
And inhale the fragrance of her hair.
I would lament being separated from her while she sleeps
And would complain about the endlessness of the night.
I wish I could be the girdle of her skirt
And bind her fair and slender body.
I would lament that she would change her dress
If it were to suddenly become hot or cold.
I wish I could be the hair cream
When she brushes her hair hanging on her shoulders.
I would lament that she washes her hair quite often
And that I would be washed away.
I wish I could be the pencil color on her eyebrows
And become spirited when she casts her glances.
I would lament that she would clean her face or change her makeup soon.
If I were reeds, I would wish to become her straw mat
And cushion her soft body in Autumn.
I would lament that I would be replaced with a tiger fur blanket in winter.
My employment would not be sought until next year.
If I were silk, I would wish to become her shoes
And enclose her white feet as they move around.
I would lament that I would be discarded beside her bed
When she rests at night.
In daytime I wish I could be her shadow
To follow her wherever she goes.
I would lament that there would be much shade beneath tall trees
And that we could not always be together.
In the evening I wish I could be a candle
To illuminate her beautiful face in her boudoir.
I would lament that I would be extinguished as soon as the sun rises.
If I were bamboo leaves, I would wish to become her fan
And deliver coolness when she holds me tenderly.
I would lament that I could only desire her sleeves and blouse in vain from afar
When the morning dew appears.
If I were a tree, I would wish to be a phoenix tree
And become a lute on her lap.
I would lament that extreme joy would beget sorrow
When she would eventually stop playing and abandon me.

I realize that my wish cannot be fulfilled.
I harbor my sorrowful longing in vain.
Consumed with sorrow I cannot confide,
I pace back and forth in the southern wood.
I sit under the dew-dripping magnolia trees
Or seclude myself in the shade of green pine trees.
If I happen to see the beautiful woman I admire,
My heart will be torn between joy and fear.
If I do not see her to banish my loneliness,
I will seek her in my dreams.
Lifting my robe to walk back home,
I heave a long sigh as I watch the sunset.
Consumed with sorrow,
I wander aimlessly,
Looking sad and haggard.
It becomes cold as leaves fall.
The sun disappears along with my shadow.
The bright moon emerges above the clouds.
A lone bird returns to its nest with sad cries.
A beast leaves its den to seek its spouse.
I lament that time flies
And that my best years are about to end.
During the night I follow her in my dreams.
I look bewildered as though I were steering a boat without an oar
Or climbing a cliff without any handholds.
The stars shine through my window;
The north wind wails.
Thousands of thoughts pace back and forth in my mind.
I cannot fall asleep.
I rise, dress, and wait for dawn.
Frost covers the steps.
A rooster folds its wings, not ready to crow,
As sad flute music arrives from a distance.
It is tranquil and harmonious at first,
But it ends with a loud and sorrowful tune.
I believe it is the woman I admire who is playing the music.
I ask the clouds to convey my yearning to her.
The clouds leave without a word.
Time will not wait for us.
In the end there is an insurmountable obstacle between us.
I devote myself to my love in vain.
Letting the breeze relieve my fatigue,
I entrust my love to a stream that flows eastward.

We should criticize the illicit love in "Creeping Weeds" 2
And praise the noble love in the poetry of the Kingdom of Shao 3.
Controlling our desires and remaining virtuous,
We should sublimate our personal longings to a universal love.


1 Zhong-shu Qian (1910-1998) mastered English, French, German, Italian, and Latin. He said he had never read such beautiful descriptions of yearning for a woman as those given in the above poem.
    The following two videos sing love songs. The title of the first video is "Guan-sui [An Osprey Sings 'Guan-guan']", an ancient Chinese love poem. In fact, "Guan-sui" is the first poem in Book of Odes compiled and revised by Confucius (551-479 BCE). provides an English translation of Book of Odes. If one desires to know the meaning of the song in English, just read the first poem of the web page. The title of the second video is "True Love Is Sweeter Than Wine". The song describes how one dreams of one's lover.

2 "Creeping Weeds in the Wild" in the chapter titled "The Poetry of the Kingdom of Zheng" in Book of Odes tells the story of a man and a woman who hope for an unexpected date after they miss their chance of getting married.

3 The poems of the Kingdom of Shao in Book of Odes are virtuous. For example, "Grass-insects" describes a lonely housewife who only behaves within common protocols. "Gathering Wild Vegetables" describes a housewife who fulfills her household duties. "Dead Deer in the Wild" says that man and woman bind with courtesy rather than violence.