Li, Shang Yin (812? A.D.-858 A.D.)


You promised to come, but you left me and disappeared.
When the temple bell announces that it is three oíclock in the morning,
The moonlight shines askew on the window upstairs.
Someone tries to wake me up.
However, I still cry in my dream because you are leaving.
The dream makes me want to talk to you so much
That I am writing this letter without the patience to darken the ink 1.
The candlelight illuminates half of the gold and jade striped quilt.
The scent of musk incense 2 lazily drifts through the bed curtain embroidered with a lotus design.
Liu hated that his paradise was far 3.
I feel that my paradise is a thousand times as far as his.


The drizzle accompanies the whistling east wind.
Light thunder rumbles from outside the lotus pond.
A golden incense burner shaped like a toad bites the lock on the musk supply.
A jade capstan pulls a rope to take water from the spiral well.
Jia's daughter peeked from behind a bamboo curtain at handsome Han 4.
Queen Mi left a golden pillow for talented King Zhi 5.
My longing for love should not compete against the blooming flowers.
As the incense turns to ash so does my lovesickness 6.

1 Chinese wrote with a fur pen at that time. One had to drop some water on a stone plate and then grind the ink stick so that the water would mix with the carbon powder and become black ink. It took some time and effort to blacken the water.

2 The incense is not used for worshipping Buddha, but used as an air freshener.

3 In Chinese mythology, Liu and his friend visited T'ien T'ai Mountain and met two beautiful goddesses beside a creek. The two men stayed there for half a year and then returned home.

4 Jia hired Han to work for him because Han was handsome. One day Jia's daughter peeked from behind a bamboo curtain at Han. Later, she had an affair with Han. After Jia discovered the affair, he gave his daughter to Han in marriage.

5 Cao was so powerful a prime minister that the last emperor of the Han dynasty became his puppet. Cao had three sons. Pei was the eldest and Zhi was his third. The father and his sons were all great poets. Pei was mean, while Zhi was kind. Zhi loved Mi and wanted to marry her, but Cao married Mi to Pei. Later, Pei killed his emperor and usurped the throne. Someone slandered Mi by saying Mi had an affair with Zhi. Consequently, Emperor Pei killed Queen Mi and sent her golden pillow to Zhi. When King Zhi passed by the Lo River, she told him in his dream, "I love you, but I cannot marry you. So I give you this pillow." Because of his dream, Zhi wrote a poem to honor her. Later generations called this poem of Zhiís the poem for the Lo Riverís patron goddess.
    This line and the previous one honor the women who bravely pursued their happiness despite the restrictions of tradition.

6 The author compared himself to a girl who missed her boyfriend. On the one hand, lovesickness might temporarily fulfill her fantasy of romance like incense releasing its fragrance. On the other hand, it might bring her great sorrow and damage like incense burned to ashes. She wished she could have controlled her sorrow, but she found that she couldn't.