Longing 1

Li, Bai (701 A.D.-762 A.D.)

1. 2

I miss Chang-an day and night.
Grasshoppers sing on the well's head in autumn.
The bamboo mat feels chilly when the ground is covered by light frost.
The lonesome oil lamp is dim.
My yearning for Chang-an is extremely intense.
Rolling up the curtain to gaze at the moon,
I heave a long sigh in vain.
The one that I hold in affectionate esteem 3 is like a flower beyond clouds.
There are tall verdant mountains above
And great green waves below.
My soul endures a far, long flight 4;
My dream soul is unable to cross over a line of mountain peaks.
The longing breaks my heart.

2. 5

At sunset the flowers are drenched in mist.
The moon is bright as usual,
But sorrow makes me sleepless.
A Zhao harp 6 just stopped its music on feng-huang 7 pegs,
The Shu lute 8 wants to play the strings, which are coupled like mandarin ducks 9.
Although my song is full of love,
No one delivers it for me.
I wish my song could drift with the spring wind
And reach Yan-ran Mountain 10.
I think of you,
But you are separated from me by the blue sky.
My eyes that used to glance sentimentally toward you
Have become springs of tears.
If you do not believe that my heart is broken,
Come back and see me in front of a bright mirror.

1 The title "Longing" comes from a poem in Ancient Poetry. The poem says, "My guest comes from a distance/ And leaves me a letter./Its beginning expresses his longing to see me,/Then it laments our long separation."

2 The first poem was probably written after Li who used to be an court official was forced to leave the capital, Chang-an. He could not show his anger overtly, so he expressed his sorrow by means of symbols.

3 "The one that I hold in affectionate esteem" refers to Li's emperor. We can have another interpretation by assuming the narrator is a woman. Then "The one that I hold in affectionate esteem" will refer to her husband.

4 According to Chinese mythology, if A dreams about B, A's soul must travel to the place where B lives.

5 The second poem describes a woman missing her husband who garrisons a border fortress.

6 During the Warring States Period, people in the State of Zhao were good at playing the harp.

7 "Feng" means male phoenix and "huang" means female phoenix. There was a song called "A feng woos a huang". Now the statement means "a man seeks a wife".

8 During the Han dynasty, Xiang-ru Si-ma, a great writer, mastered playing the lute. He once played his lute to seduce Wen-jun Zhuo into eloping with him.

9 Madrin ducks often go as pairs, a male and female.

10 Yan-ran Mountain was present day Hang-ai Mountain in Nei Monggu Autonomous region. Here the mountain refers to a border fortress in general.