by Bai Ju Yi
translated by E. C. Chang
Please be advised that the English translation here is intended
for the convenience of bilingual readers whose mother tongue
is not Chinese. The translator cannot guarantee that this
translated version is free from misinterpretations, omissions,
and other errors.
By Bai Ju Yi
Translated by E. C. Chang
The Han emperor was obsessed with finding an unsurpassable beauty.
Royal search for years failed to meet the criteria of His Majesty.
A daughter had grown into womanhood in the Yang family.
Growing up in the women’s chamber, she was not known for being pretty and lovely.
A born beauty was not supposed to be left alone.
So, one day she was chosen to stand beside the throne.
She was so seductive when she glanced back with a smile.
All court ladies were overshadowed as if they appeared under gloomy light.
She was called up to bathe in the Hua Qing Pool in the chill of early spring.
Powder and grease were washed away with the smooth water in the hot spring.
So frail and delicate, she stood up with the help of the maids.
This marked the beginning of receiving the emperor’s grace.
Tingling ornaments were above her cloud-like hair and flower-like face.
She spent her rendezvous spring night inside the warm hibiscus canopy.
The rising sun cut short the night of rendezvous in spring.
Thereafter the emperor was late for the audience in the morning.
She accompanied him for feasts and joyful activities all the time.
After spring outing, they still enjoyed being together for the night.
He could have chosen from any of the three thousand harems.
But his true love was exclusively devoted to only one person.
She finished her made up and waited for him in the golden chamber.
After the banquet in the jade-like pavilion, she felt tipsy and warmer.
Official titles were conferred to her sisters and brothers.
Her family door now looked far more colorful and brighter.
This led to attitudinal changes among parents in the entire nation.
Now, they would rather give birth to a daughter instead of a son.
The Li palace on the hill rose high into the clouds of the blue sky.
Far and near, the breeze gave the melodious music a free ride.
They danced slowly to harmonize with the beautiful music and song.
At the end of the day, the emperor’s interest remained strong.
The loud sound of the rebels’ war drums from Yuyang could be heard all around
The tune “Rainbow Gown and Feather Coat” was interrupted by the frightening sound.
Outside the imperial palace, smoke and dust rose in the air.
Thousands of horses and carriages fled the city heading southwest.
The royal procession with colorful banners alternated walking and resting.
Some 100 li west of the capital, something had happened while traveling.
Soldiers refused to march forward unless he put to death his concubine.
He was so heartbroken in front of the horse to let his beautiful lady die.
No one bothered to pickup from the ground her ornamental things.
These included her emerald feathers, golden bird, and jade hairpins.
The emperor hid his face and could do nothing.
He turned his head back with tears falling.
Walking through the chilly wind with yellow dust pervading the air,
they ascended the Sword Tower by way of a high and cliffy path.
Below the E-Mei Mountain, few travelers could be seen.
The banners had lost their luster and the sun looked pale and thin.
So green was the Su Water; so blue were the Su Mountains.
Day and night, the emperor could not forget their lasting affections.
In the temporary abode, the moon reminded him of the heart-broken site.
The sound of the bell appeared heart-wrenching whenever it rained at night.
As if the sky and the earth were spinning round, they could now head back to the palace.
On the way back to where she was killed, he was so reluctant to leave that fatal place.
In the mud and dust at Ma Wei’s hillside,
No where could he find her remains left behind.
The emperor and his officials looked at each with tears falling.
Finally they could see from the east the gate of the capital with horses neighing.
The ponds and the gardens looked the same as old.
No changes to Taiyi Lake’s hibiscus and Weiyang palace’s willows.
The hibiscus reminded him of her face and the willow leaves her eyebrows.
Seeing these things, how could he not shed tears with sorrows?
It was more so when peach and plum trees blossomed in the spring wind.
It was hard to bear when Wutong leaves continued to fall in the autumn rain.
In either the Western or the southern court, autumn grass overgrew everywhere.
The steps were full of red leaves that had not been swept.
Actors, though young, started to see some new grey hair.
In the Pepper Chamber, the eunuchs and maids looked older than their actual years.
Watching the fireflies flitting, he was deep in thought.
The lone lamp wick almost burned out, but he could not fall asleep at all.
The watchman was late in beating his drum and the night appeared long.
The Milky Way seemed reluctant to vanish for the arrival of dawn.
The heavy frost had cooled the lovebird roof-tiles.
Whom would he want to warm up the kingfisher quilt at night?
Years had passed since the dead and living parted.
Not once did her spirit come to his dream and comfort his heart.
Then, Hong Du Ke, a Taoist from Linqiong, came to the palace door.
He claimed that he could summon her spirit to appear for the emperor.
Deeply touched by the emperor’s devotion to his love,
they requested the occultist to search for her spirit below or above.
Like a flash of lightening, he rode on the clouds and air.
He rose into the sky and penetrated the earth everywhere.
Up to the heaven and down to the Hades.
She was nowhere to be found in all the places.
Suddenly they heard that rising on the sea was a fairy-residing mountain.
It was situated in between emptiness and imagination.
Pavilions and chambers rose amid clouds that were very colorful.
There lived a host of fairies who were beautiful and graceful.
Among them was a fairy by the name of Tai Zhen.
With snowy skin and flower-like face, she could be that departed person.
The Taoist knocked at the door of the west wing of the golden mansion.
He asked “Little Jade” to inform Shuang Shing, the waiting maid, about the visitation.
Upon hearing the arrival of the Han Emperor’s envoy,
the fairy queen started from her dream inside her flowery canopy.
Pushing the pillow aside, she put on her clothes, though hesitantly
She then opened the pearl and silver screen gradually.
Freshly woken from sleep, her hair was not in the best shape at all.
With a crooked flowery cap, she stepped into the hall.
Her beautiful sleeves were fluttering in the wind.
she felt as though she was dancing the “Rainbow Gown and Feather Coat” again.
Her charming but weary face was in full display while tears were falling.
It looked like a spray of pear blossom coming down in spring rain.
With affection, she bade the envoy to thank her Lord.
Since they parted, she knew nothing about what he had gone through at all.
Love and grace were once cut short in the Zhaoyang Hall.
Days and months in the Penglai would never come to a halt.
She turned her head down in the direction of the earth with a bewildered gaze.
She did not see Chang’an; all she could see were dust and haze.
To show her deep love, she wanted to return the keepsakes.
Which included a golden hairpin and a filigree case.
She wanted to keep one side of the case and one wing of the pin.
She thus split the case into half and broke the gold of the hairpin.
So long as the heart is as firm as the gold hairpin,
In heaven or on earth, two people in love will meet again.
She asked him to convey a secret message as they parted.
It was the vow known only to the two loving hearts.
The vow was made on the seventh day of the seventh month in Everlasting Hall.
It was when they whispered to each other at midnight, with no one around at all.
In Heaven, we would be two lovebirds flying side by side.
On earth, we would be like two trees whose branches intertwine.
Heaven and earth, though long lasting, will end sometime.
This sorrow will continue and will never subside.
Song of the Pipa
By Bai Juyi
Translated by E. C. Chang
I saw a friend off by the Xunyang River at nightfall.
Maple leaves and flowering rushes rustled in the fall.
Dismounting from my horse, I saw my friend already in the boat.
Without piping and fiddling, we were not in the mood for a toast.
How could I drink with joy as he would depart very soon?
All I could see now in the river was the reflection of the moon.
Suddenly, we heard the sound of pipa from somewhere in the river.
I forgot to go home and my guest too decided to depart a bit later.
We followed where the sound led and asked who was the player?
The music stopped and she seemed somewhat hesitant to answer.
Maneuvering our boat a little closer, we invited her to come over.
We lighted up lamps, added more wine, and resumed our dinner.
Upon our repeated persuasions, she finally agreed to come out and play.
Holding the pipa in her arms, she came out and used it to hide half of her face.
She first tuned up and plucked the strings two or three times.
Before she started, she already revealed what was on her mind.
Every note that came out reflected her sad but genuine emotions.
It appeared that she was conveying her lifelong disappointments.
Lowering her head, she continued to skillfully pluck the strings.
She “talked about” what was in her heart through her feelings.
She made use such finger techniques as combing, twisting, wiping, and plucking.
After the “Rainbow Skirts,” she played the “Green Waist,” a tune for dancing.
The sound of the thick strings reminded me of the pattering rain.
The sound of the thin strings was just like two lovers whispering.
She alternated the loud and soft notes melodiously as she played.
It felt as though pearls of various sizes glided down to a jade plate.
It was like an oriole warbling and gliding down under a flowery branch;
It also sounded like a sobbing stream flowing down to the sandy beach.
The stream suddenly turned cold and the strings could move no more.
Flowing water became frozen and the sound temporarily came to a halt.
Could it be that some hidden sorrows found a way to come around?
At a time like this, wasn’t silence more fitting than any given sound?
Suddenly, it sounded like water rushing out from a broken silver bottle.
Or, the armored riders clanking their swords and spears in a battle.
To conclude her melody, she brushed, in one motion, across the strings.
Striking the four strings simultaneously reminded one of silk-rending.
Nobody onboard said a word from nearby boats, left to right.
Over the river, the autumn moon beamed widely in color white.
She silently inserted the plectrum between the strings.
Smoothing out her dress, she rose gracefully before talking.
She said that she was a girl from Captial Chang’an.
Her family used to reside at the foot of Xiama Mount.
She had mastered the techniques of pipa at thirteen.
In her institute, she was among the very best in ranking.
Her performance was applauded by the known masters.
Her appearance after make-up was the envy of other players.
Wealthy young men in Wuling vied with gifts for her attention.
Rolls of scarlet silk received each time were too numerous to mention.
Decorated pins and combs fell and damaged while beating time.
Red silken skirts were stained all over by the spilt-out wine.
Year after year, life was filled with nothing but joy and laughter.
Autumn moon and spring breeze came and passed one after the other.
Her younger brother joined the army, and her aunt passed away.
Her beauty faded as each morning and dusk turned into another day.
Fewer and fewer carriages and horses showed up now at her door.
At her age, marrying to a merchant seemed to be her only recourse.
The profit-minded merchant was often on the road.
He went to Fuliang to purchase tea two months ago.
She came to the river mouth and waited for him on an
Accompanying her were the bright moon and river water
in the cold.
Deep in the night, she dreamt of her youthful years.
She cried in her dream and stained her roughed cheeks with tears
Listening to her pipa music, I couldn’t help but sigh,
I felt even sadder after hearing the story of her life.
In a strange land, we both are downtrodden and
Having met, it no long matters if we are stranger or
Last year, I was banished from the imperial capital.
I am here in Xunyang as a demoted and sick official.
Xunyang is too remote a place to have music pleasing my ears.
I have not heard the sound of strings and pipes in a whole year.
Residing by the River Pen, I must put up with the low and damp ground.
Moeover, my house is beset with yellow reeds and bitter bamboos all around.
From morning to dusk I don’t often hear anything
Except the cuckoos’ crying and gibbons’ moaning.
In the morning of spring blossoms or under autumn moonlight,
I often bring with me my wine and drink alone by the riverside.
They do have mountaineers’ songs and village pipes here.
But they are too noisy and disharmonious to please my ear.
Listening to pipa melodies you played for us tonight,
I felt that I was enlightened by fairy music from the sky.
So please don’t refuse to play one more melody for me.
I will compose a Song of the Pipa Player for you to see.
Touched by my words, she rose and stood there for a long while.
Then sat down and played by quickening the tempo in no time.
Unlike the other tunes she played, this was so sad to our ears.
With no exception, all those in the seat were moved in tears.
Of all the listeners, do you know who shed the most tears?
The Assistant Prefect of Jiujiang , whose blue robe was wet.
Song of the Pipa PDF version
How to Read a Chinese Poem: A Bilingual Anthology of Tang Poetry (如何閱讀唐詩)