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To the Tune of "A Slow Tune" 1

Li, Qing-zhao 2 (1084-1155 CE)

I am still looking for you in your study as if you were alive.
However, it is quiet and looks dismal and desolate.
It has been warm one moment, and cold the next.
I can hardly rest in peace.
How can two or three cups of light wine
Fight against the chill of the evening gale?
As a wild goose flies over,
My heart grieves 3.
It seems that we have met before.

Fallen chrysanthemums pile up all over the ground.
Who will gather faded and withered flowers?
I wait at a window.
How can I endure oncoming darkness alone?
The leaves of the phoenix tree and light rain continue to fall,
Fluttering down and drizzling until the sun sets.
How can a single word “grief” fully express my misery?


1 This poem was written after Qing-zhao Li's husband died. Every scene in this poem reminds her of her late husband. The following two video files have the same title, "A Slow Tune":

2 Qing-zhao Li called herself "Yi-an (easily contented) -ju-shi (recluse)". She was born in Ji-nan City, a place where mountains were bright and rivers were beautiful. Qing-zhao Li came from a talented family. Her father, Ge-fei Li, was an essayist. His book, The Great Park in Lo-yang City, was highly praised by his teacher, Dong-po Su. The grandfather of Qing-zhao’s mother was Gong-chen Wang, who ranked first in the palace exam. Qing-zhao’s mother was a gifted writer of both poems and essays. Qing-zhao’s husband was a student at the Royal University, a poet, and an expert in antiquities. As for herself, she was clever and studious. As a child, she wrote, "My poetic thoughts are like a night magpie circling many times without setting down." She was endowed with an outstanding natural gift. In addition, she worked very hard toward her goal. It was certainly not by chance that she was able to break the barrier of gender discrimination, achieve the same level as Yong Liu and Shu Yan, and compete with the great poets like Dong-po Su and Guan Qin.
    She married Ming-cheng Zhao at the age of eighteen. Besides writing poems in response to each other, they loved to study ancient inscriptions on bronze and stone. They were not rich, but if they found a tablet inscription they liked, they would pawn their clothes to purchase it rather than give it up. They called themselves the people governed by Emperor Ge-tian (an ancient Chinese emperor during the pre-historic age). They were an affectionate couple, and also congenial friends. At home they loved each other; in writing they encouraged each other. They lived a happy and intellectually rich life.
    When she was thirty-one years old, her husband celebrated her birthday by having her portrait painted and then writing a few words in its upper right-hand corner. The painting showed her beautiful eyes and pretty silhouette. In it, she is holding a fresh flower. The words say, "This is the portrait of Qing-zhao at the age of thirty-one. Her poems are beautiful and refreshing. She is graceful and elegant. My desire is to come home and live the rest of my life with her in seclusion." Then he wrote the date on the painting. This caption is a great aid for understanding the character of Qing-zhao Li and calculating her birth date.
    Qing-zhao Li was a famous female poet during the Southern Song dynasty. Chapter eight of The Miscellaneous Stories Written near Qing-bo Gate [a city gate of Hang-Zhou City] authored by Hui Zhou (1126-?, Bang-yan Zhou’s son) says, "Qing-zhao's family said, 'During Ming-cheng's healthy days, whenever there was a blizzard, Qing-zhao would travel all over the city to seek inspiration for her poetry, wearing a bamboo hat (made of bamboo splints) and a straw cape. She would invite her husband to join her to improvise poems in response to hers. Ming-cheng disliked this practice, but could do nothing about it.'" You Lu (1125-1210) wrote, "Zi-shao Zhang, a.k.a. Jiu-cheng Zhang, designed a strategy for Ming-cheng: Laurel seeds spread fragrance. (In Chinese, the characters representing 'laurel' and 'noble' have the same pronunciation; the characters representing 'seeds' and 'children' are the same. Zhang meant that Ming-cheng should have children with Li, so that Li would not have time to be a troublemaker.) After Li heard this, she wrote a poem to ridicule Zhang. It said, ‘‘The reflection of dewy flowers’ represents Yong Liu (987-1053);/ 'Laurel seeds spreading fragrance’ represents Jiu-cheng Zhang.'" Talented Women says, "Qing-zhao mastered poetry, painting, and calligraphy. Literary grace was her expertise. Up to now whenever scholars have read her essay, 'Epilogue of Records of the Inscriptions on Bronze and Stone', their spirits have become refreshed instantly. It is amazing that an old woman can produce such grace and tranquility." The synopsis of Si-ku-chuan-shu (the Encyclopedia) says, "Qing-zhao's poetic quality matches or even exceeds those of Bang-yan Zhou (1056-1121) and Yong Liu. Even though her poems are few, we must treasure them because she was a great female poet." Dah-jen Liu's Chinese-English Dictionary (1978) says, "Qing-zhao Li was a great collector of curios, arts, and books, most of which were lost during the Mongolian invasion."

3 A wild goose symbolizes a messenger delivering letters. Li was upset either because the bird did not bring any news from her husband or because it had visited her house previously when her husband was still alive. It is also possible that she was upset for both reasons.