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To the Tune of "A Clump of Flowers"

Zhang, Xian 1 (990-1078 CE)

    When can I quit ascending a tower and thinking of my love far away? There is nothing more passionate than love. My sorrow from separation dishevels my thick hair. In addition, the floating, fluffy willow seeds on the eastern road obscure my view. The neighing of horses gradually fades away. The dust the carriages left behind never settles down. Where can I find traces of you? The deep lake with a pair of Mandarin ducks 2 swells with gently rippling water. Only a small boat connects north and south. After sunset, I withdraw the ladder that provides access to my beautiful house by the lake. Soon the slanting moonshine illuminates my window curtain. My heart is burdened with sorrow as I contemplate the fact that I am not even as good as peach or apricot flowers: they can still feel free to marry the east wind 3.


1 Xian Zhang was a native of Hu City. Zi-ye was his alternate first name. Zhang passed the Advanced Exam in 1030 CE. When Shu Yan was the Mayor of Jing-zhao City, he recruited Zhang as a department head. Guo-ting-lu (Passing the Yard) says, "This poem of Xian Zhang's immediately became popular after he wrote it. Xiu Ou-yang, a literary giant, loved it very much and hated that he had not yet met Zhang. Zhang lived in Southern China. One time he went north to the capital to see Ou-yang for some reason. When the doorman announced Zhang's arrival, Ou-yang went to see him in such a hurry that his slippers were on the wrong feet. He introduced Zhang to others by saying, 'This is the one who wrote ‘Peach and apricot flowers marry the east wind.'" This story showed how greatly Ou-yang treasured Zhang's talent.
    The first time Dong-po Su met Zhang was at Qian-tang City. At that time Zhang was eighty, but his sight and hearing remained acute. Su praised Zhang as a seasoned poet.

2 Mandarin ducks always walk in pairs, a male and a female. They symbolize an affectionate couple.

3 One may say this line does not make sense. The reason a tree bears fruit is that the wind blows pollen to the stamen. In order to appreciate Chinese classics, one should go back in time to a thousand years earlier instead of being stuck with modern biology. Ancient poets observed that all the petals fall and flowers became small fruit after a windy night. Thus, they naturally concluded that the wind impregnates blossoms. Only by this approach may one appreciate the beauty of this line. No wonder Xiu Ou-yang loved this line of Xian Zhang's. In fact, the idea of "blossoms marry the spring wind" appeared in one of "Thirteen Poems About the Southern Garden" written by He Li (790-816). The poem says, "Stems of flowers surrounded by creeping vines greet my eyes./ Their touches of white and profusion of red resemble Xi-shi’s cheeks (Xi-shi was one of the four most beautiful women in Chinese history)./ It is a pity that fragrant petals fall at sunset./ The blossoms marry the spring wind without a matchmaker."