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To the Tune of "A Lotus Garland" 1

Wei, Zhuang 2 (836?-910 CE)

It was on this day last year, April seventeenth, when we parted.
Lowering my face to hide my tears,
I half knitted my eyebrows with a shy look 3.
I never expected that my heart would be broken;
In my dreams I still follow you in vain.
Except for the moon in the sky,
No one knows my sorrow 4.


1 In this poem, Wei reminisced about his lover who was seized by his emperor, Jian Wang. Wei wrote the above poem from the perspective of his lover. In addition to this poem, Wei also wrote the following poems to cherish the memory of his lover:
"To the Tune of 'A Lotus-leaf Cup'"
I. She is a beauty of beauties./Such a beautiful woman is rare./I cannot see her in the garden any more./When I recall her knitted eyebrows,/I cannot bear to think of her further.//A green screen painted with a golden phoenix/Stands in front of the doorway./When I awaken at night,/The picturesque chamber decorated with gauze curtains appears empty./Now she is confined in the green palace./I have no way to send her a message./I sit sorrowfully by the window at home.//
II. I recall when I first met Miss Xie beneath flowers at midnight./In the hall facing the lake, the colorful curtains at the west window were drawn./We secretly held hands expecting to meet each other again.//When we parted at dawn, the orioles and setting moon appeared sorrowful./Since then we have not received letters from each other./ Now we both wander in this strange land./It is unlikely we will meet again.//
"To the Tune of 'Overlapping Hills'"
    I have been shut away from the sunshine year after year./The water clock seems to drip endlessly during a cold night./I dream of your love./While lying down to think of you, I am secretly overwhelmed with joy./My silk gown is dampened and my red sleeves are stained with tears.//The sound of my music cannot penetrate the many palace doors./The fragrant grass surrounding the palace is green./I lean against a tall palace door./To whom can I speak of my sorrow?/I stand there immersed in cherishing the memory of you./The setting sun illuminates the palace.//
    Notes and Comments on Ancient and Modern Poetry says, "Zhuang Wei was famous for his literary talent. He traveled to the State of Shu which was occupied by Warlord Jian Wang. The warlord detained Zhuang Wei in the State of Shu. Zhuang Wei had a beautiful girlfriend who mastered poetry. After Emperor Wang heard of her beauty and talent, he cooked up a pretext for meeting her by saying his wife desired to learn poetry from her. After Zhuang Wei's girlfriend entered the palace, the emperor immediately seized her. Zhuang expressed his sorrow by writing poems such as 'Lotus-leaf Cup' and 'Overlapping hills'. These poems sadly lamented his misfortune. His poems were widely circulated by his readers and became popular during his time. After his girlfriend read his poems in the palace, she fasted and died."

2 Duan-ji was Zhuang Wei’s alternate first name. He was an important poet during the late Tang dynasty and the Five Dynasties. Wei was a native of Du-ling City (northeast of present day Chang-an-xian City in Shaanxi Province) in Jing-zhao Country. He was born to a declining noble family. His father died when he was a child. His family was poor. In 880, the rebellion led by Chao Huang captured the capital, Chang-an City, where Zhuang had traveled to take the Advanced Exam. Only in 882 might Wei be able to leave Chang-an City for Lo-yang City. In 883, Zhuang Wei wrote a long poem with more than one thousand and six hundred words. Its title was "The Witness of a Housewife in Qin District". It vividly portrays the turmoil affecting society during the rebels' occupation of Chang-an City.
    The following passage of the poem describes the cruelty of the war: The blood in each house was like boiling water./The cries of grievance shook the ground./Hired singers and dancers were given away to rebels./Parents abandoned their little babies.
    The following passage describes the destruction of the capital: Grand houses and beautiful parks no longer existed./Half of noble families either died or fled./Foxes and hares ran throughout the palace./Thistles and thorns grew in front of the Calyx Tower./The past prosperity was all gone./All one could see was a desolate ruin./Warehouses were burnt to ashes./The bones of aristocrats were tread upon in the streets of the capital.
    After the housewife fled from Chang-an City, she met an old man when she passed the eastern suburb. He told her, “Thousands of warehouses and storage rooms remained half full after Chao Huang looted the city./ Since the government troops stationed themselves near the lower reaches of the Lo River,/The soldiers patrolled the villages day and night./¼ /They dismounted from their horses and entered people's houses like a whirlwind./Everything in bags and chests was looted like sand flying with the wind./I lost all my possessions and traces of my children./I wonder how I can live through my remaining years./My suffering is not worth mentioning./Thousands of families have fled to the mountains./All they have to eat is grass./They dream only of finding some nuts./During the night they sleep on the reed flower beds covered with frost."
    Records of Folk Style Poetry says, “People call Zhuang Wei the Poet Who Wrote ‘The Witness of a Housewife in Qin District’.” After writing the above long poem, Zhuang Wei led a wandering life in the area south of Yangtze River. In 894, Wei finally passed the Advanced Exam. During his late years, he lived by Wan-hua Creek in the same thatched cottage where Fu Du had lived. Due to the flames of war in Central China, he went west to the State of Shu for shelter. Warlord Jian Wang, the commander who garrisoned Shu, appointed Wei as his secretary. After Chuan-zhong Zhu usurped the emperorship of the Tang dynasty in 907, Wei persuaded Wang to declare himself emperor. Then Wei became Emperor Wang's prime minister. Wei asked his emperor to recognize He Li, Dao Jia, Ting-yun Wen, and Gui-meng Lu's literary achievements by offering them government positions or conferring upon them the title of Jin-shi (usually, one earned the title of Jin-shi by passing the Advanced Exam) posthumously. Most of Wei's poems describe his sorrowful experiences during his wandering life. It was said that the poetry book, Washing Flowers, compiled by Wei, collected a thousand poems. However, only less than four hundred poems survive. This shows that many poems have been lost. Wei was one of the poets representing the Garden School of Poetry. Wei enjoyed the same fame in ci poetry as Ting-yun Wen. His emperor gave him a posthumous name, Wen-jing (literature-integrity).
    Another Anthology of Metaphysics was another poetry book compiled by Zhuang Wei. It included three hundred poems written by one hundred and fifty poets. The preface of this book says, "….These are the themes of the poems in this book and the music behind the words. Reciting these poems is like striking Fu’s chime. It reminds one of fresh frost (wisdom) in the sun palace (emotions). Reciting these poems is like tempering the sword of the thunder god. The light of the sword pierces through the starry sky. Thunder clouds burst forth as if they are competing with the Creator. Wind and rain rush through as if these poets could bring supernatural beings to do their bidding. One should contemplate why a poet describes the taste of horse meat without mentioning the taste of its liver. This is because he would like to leave the best part to the reader's imagination. (The Chinese people consider the liver the tastiest and most nutritious part of game animals. These two sentences of Wei’s imply that for these poems, one should read between the lines rather than interpret a poem literately.) One should not worry about the possibility of damaging the scales of fish as one removes its guts to cook it. (Guts should be removed lest one should taste their bitter bile. Damaging scales refers to minor drawbacks of a poem such as whether the poem violates the strict rules of ci poetry.)"

3 This line says "she was shy but she tried to assume a serious expression".

4 This line hints that Wei was not daring to complain because the one who seized his lover was his emperor. The following video entitled "The Autumnal Moon over the Han Palace" expresses the court ladies' deep sorrow and strong yearning for love when they faced the bright moon: