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To the Tune of "Yu, the Beautiful Woman" 1

Li, Yu 2 (937-978 CE)


When the wind returns to this small yard,
The turnips in the garden turn green.
The shoots of the willow trees herald the continuity of Spring.
I have remained silent and alone for half a day
While leaning against the banister.
The sound of bamboo and the sight of the crescent moon
Are still fresh in my mind as in years past.

As the wind pipes continue to sing
And the wine pot and cups are still on the table,
The ice on the surface of the pool begins to melt 3.
The bright candlelight and the subtle fragrance
Steep the picturesque tower in darkness.
My thoughts are outrageously full.
I hardly notice
That my beard has become covered with fresh frost and lingering snow.


When will Spring blossoms and the Autumn moon come to an end?
How can I forget the good memory of the past?
The east wind visited my attic again last night.
I could not bear to recall my lost kingdom while under this bright moon 4.
The engraved banisters and the jade stairs should remain the same.
Only my rosy cheeks have faded.
May I ask you how much sorrow you can bear?
It is just like a river of Spring water flowing eastward 5.


1 At the end of the Qin dynasty, Yu Xiang and Bang Liu competed for the emperorship. While Xiang was besieged by Liu's troops, he drank at his camp and sang to his beautiful mistress, "Yu! Yu! What can I do?" Yu responded with a song. The royal school of music during the Tang dynasty used this story to compose a melody called "Yu, the Beautiful Woman". The following video entitled "Yu, the Beautiful Woman" shows how the second of the above poems is sung:

2 Cong-jia was Yu Li's original first name. He was the last king of the Kingdom of Southern Tang, so people called him Last King Li. After he inherited the throne, he changed his first name to Yu. He also used Chong-guang as his first name. He had a noble face, broad brow, and plump cheeks. Two of his front teeth were joined. One of his eyes had two pupils. He mastered music, poetry, painting, and calligraphy. He published many books. Music was his expertise. In 960 CE, he was established as the crown prince. In 961 CE, he inherited the throne at Jin-ling City (present day Nanjing City), the capital of Southern Tang. He became king at the age of twenty-five. At that time his kingdom switched to the calendar of the Song dynasty. Last King Li frequently sent envoys to pay tribute to Emperor Tai-zu of the Song dynasty so that his kingdom could survive for a short while. In 970 CE, Emperor Tai-zu destroyed the Kingdom of Southern Han. Last King Li started to worry that his kingdom would be the next to be destroyed. In 974 CE, Emperor Tai-zu summoned Li to the capital twice. Both times Li excused himself by claiming that he was ill. Consequently, Emperor Tai-zu ordered Generals Bin Cao and Mei Pan to lead troops in an attack on Jin-ling City by land and by water. Because Li's general, Ruo-shan Fan, betrayed Li, Jin-ling City was captured by Song's troops in 975 CE. When Jing-ling City was besieged by Song's army, Last King Li's courtiers hid the crisis from their king. King Li was still listening to the sermons on Shurangama Sutra given by Monk De-ming. After the capital of Southern Tang fell, Last King Li bared his back to accept punishment and surrendered at the enemy's camp. Emperor Tai-zu ordered Li to wear white clothes and a crepe hat (a mourning costume), to stand beneath Ming-de (brighten virtue) Tower, and to wait for his punishment. Li was given the title “the Disobeying Count". After Emperor Tai-zu's son, Tai-zong, became emperor, he gave Li the title "the Duke of the State of Long". The officials of the Song dynasty constantly harassed him with freezing irony and burning satire. Li's life was made miserable. He once wrote to his previous staff in Jin-ling City, "I wash my face with tears day and night." His longing for his home country made his poems more and more elaborate and profound. Many of his poems were highly praised by later generations.
    After Yu Li surrendered to the Song dynasty, he was unhappy. His melancholy was revealed in his writings and conversations. In 978 CE, on July 12th, his birthday, Last King Li held a party in his mansion and ordered his previous courtesans to entertain the guests. The noise of the party could be heard from far away. Emperor Tai-zong was angry. After the emperor read the second of the above poems, he regarded the three lines, "The east wind visited my attic again last night", "I could not bear to recall my lost kingdom while under this bright moon", and "It is just like a river of Spring water flowing eastward", as evidence that Li was not content with his present condition and planned to restore his kingdom. In addition, he was angry at Li's exuberance. Therefore, he ordered the King of the State of Chu, Yuan-zuo, to bring wine to Li's mansion to cerebrate. After the wine was finished, Li died from poison. When the news of his death reached the area south of the Yangtze River, many of the elders wept on the streets.
    The History of the Kingdom of Southern Tang says, "Queen Zhao-hui, the wife of King Yu Li, was a daughter of Zong Zhou, the Minister of Education. E-huang was Queen Zhao-hui(a.k.a. Elder Queen Zhou)’s alternate first name. She married Yu Li when she was nineteen and he was eighteen. She was talented and beautiful. She mastered music, history, and classics. Lute was her expertise. She was also good at singing and dancing. Indeed, she was a versatile artist. Once she asked for paper and immediately composed the melody 'Come, Intoxication, Let Us Dance to Exhaustion!'. King Yuan-zong, Yu Li’s father, appreciated her talent and offered the imperial lute to her as a gift. After Yu Li inherited the throne, Zhao-hui was made his Queen. She died at the age of twenty-nine.
    "Last King Li often choreographed dances using classical music. He also composed new melodies such as ‘Inviting the Wine God to Dance’ and ‘Regretting a Late Arrival’ which were popular during his time."
    Swallows Chirrup in a Quarry says, "Emperor Tai-zu of the Song dynasty held a musical banquet and asked Yu Li to recite the line of which Li was most proud. Li recited his poem 'Fan': One has the moon (a folding fan looks like a half moon when unfolded) in one's hand when making a bow/ And bathes in breeze when waving the fan.// Emperor Tai-zu praised Li by saying, 'You deserve to be a Great Scholar in the Royal Academy.'"
    Yin-wu Tang said, "Yu Li was clever as a child. He wrote well and loved to collect books. The royal library was full of books. It also included many calligraphical works of Yao Zhong (151-230) and Xi-zhi Wang (303-361). Yu Li built Cheng-xin (purify mind) Hall in the palace grounds and appointed many resident writers. He loved to study Buddhist Scriptures and often invited monks to give sermons on them. Li wrote one hundred miscellaneous essays. His contemporaries thought they were the best essays since Criticism of Chinese Classics written by Pei Cao (187-226)."
    Miscellaneous Essays on Ci Poetry written by Qian Shen says, "Yu Li was the Emperor of Ci poetry and Qing-Zhao Li was the Queen of Ci poetry."
    Miscellaneous Essays on Ci Poetry at Jie-cun's Study written by Ji Zhou says, "Yu Li's poetry is as unrestrained as a wild, fine horse." It also says, "Qiang Mao and Xi-shi were the most beautiful women in Chinese history. They were beautiful whether in heavy or light makeup. Even coarse clothing and disheveled hair could not hide their natural beauty. Ting-yun Wen's poems are like heavy makeup. Zhuang Wei’s poems are like light makeup. Yu Li's poems are like coarse clothing and disheveled hair which enhance natural beauty."
    The following four passages are excerpted from Notes and Comments on Ci Poetry written by Guo-wei Wang:
    "The beauty of Ting-yun Wen's poetry lies in his word choice. The beauty of Zhuang Wei poetry lies in their design. The beauty of Yu Li's poetry lies in his spirit in both art and compassion."
    "An objective poet must be deeply experienced in worldly affairs. The more experienced he is, the richer and more varied his works are. The authors of Outlaws of the Marsh at Liang-shan Mountain and Dreams of the Red Chamber are such examples. A subjective poet need not be experienced. The less experienced he is, the more completely his true nature is preserved in his writings."
    "Friedrich Nietzsche said, 'Among all the works of literature, I love the works written with blood.' It can be said that Yu Li’s Ci poetry was written with blood. 'The Gazebo on Yan Mountain' written by Emperor Hui-zong of the Song dynasty was of similar type. However, Emperor Hui-zong only described his own tragedy. In contrast, Li's poems contain a dignified tone stemming from his having bravely shouldered the burden of human sins like Buddha or Christ."
    "There were good lines in the Ci poetry written during the Tang and the Five dynasties, but there were few good Ci poems. There were great poems written during the Southern Song dynasty, but there were few great lines. Great poems with great lines can be found only in the works of Yu Li after he surrendered to the Song dynasty and the works of Xiu Ou-yang, Dong-po Su, Guan Qin, Bang-yan Zhou, and Qi-ji Xin."

3 This line can be interpreted as follows: My memory is frozen like the ice of the pool because it will cause too much pain. As the music and wine dull the pain, my memory emerges more smoothly.

4 After Li read this poem to his old officials, they all cried. When Emperor Tai-zong heard this episode, he sent people to find Li’s poem. After he read this line, he resolved to kill Li by poisoning his meal.

5 A river of Spring water carries the fallen petals, which symbolize sweet memory. However, the river continues to flow forward and will not return.