Breaking Through Our Ranks

Li, Yu [ 李煜 ]   (937 A.D.-978 A.D.)

    My home country had been established for forty years. There were one million square miles of mountains and rivers. The Phoenix Penthouse and the Dragon Tower reached to the sky. Gold trees and jade branches were regarded as smoke or trailing plants 1. How could I have ever known shields and spears 2?

    Since I became a captive, I have wasted like Shen 3, my torso diminishing buckle by buckle; my beard has become gray like Pan's 4. On the day I said farewell to the ancestral hall, I was in extreme haste and pain. The Royal Music School 5 still played the song of farewell. I wiped my tears away when I waved to the courtesans 6.

1 This sentence means "Gold, jade, and jewelry were so abundant that they were regarded as smoke or trailing plants".

2 "Shields and spears" refers to the weapons of war.

3 Yue Shen (441-513 A.D.), was the first Chinese poet to use tone values. His style of poetry was later called l shi, a style with stringent inflection rules. Yue Shen wrote to Mian Xu, "I have been sick for four months./Oftentimes I have to tighten my belt buckle by buckle." A poem of Middle King Li (Yu Li's father) says, "Mr. Shen is so thin that he cannot bear the weight of his clothes."

4 "Pan" refers to Yue Pan. The poem "The Song of Autumn", written by Yue Pan, says, "Beneath the hat, my hair and beard gray."

5 The Royal Music School was the authority in charge of the music training of all the official geisha girls (courtesans) in the palace.

6 Some critics ridicule King Li by saying, "It is inappropriate for King Li to shed tears to the courtesans. He should have shed tears when he said farewell to his ancestors and his people." These critics cling to outworn rules and lack any artistic taste.