Anonymous Sijo

항우 작한 쳔하장사랴마는 우미인 니별에 한슘 셕꺼 눈물 지고

명황이 작한 졔셰영쥬랴마는 양귀비 니별에 마외역에 울엇거든

허물며 녀남문 장부야 일너 무삼

Xiang Yu is an outstanding general of the Heavenly empire,

But after parting with the beauty Yu he made sighs and shed tears,

And Ming Huang is a talented ruler,

But after parting with Yang Guifei,

At the Mawei station he cried

Then what to say

About other men!

As Anastasia A. Guryeva notes in her paper “Allusions and Citations in the Context of New Tendencies in Korean Vernacular Poetry of Late Chosŏn,” use of Chinese imagery, Chinese personal names, and Chinese geographical names is one of characteristic traits of Korean poetry (3). These associations serve not just to express the education of the author (and a good education was indeed an education in Chinese literature and history), but also to heighten the main idea of the poem (3): here, in this undated poem of the 18th century, of longing, separation, and grief.

Along with the tragedy of Ming Huang, a common name for Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang, and Yang Guifei, the poem mentions Xiang Yu, a famous warrior of 3rd century China. Xiang Yu is famous for his romance with a concubine 虞美人, who chose death after he himself committed suicide after a defeat (5).

The sorrows of such powerful, historic figures, then, is this poem’s avenue toward its central point. If mighty heroes and illustrious emperors such as these two are overcome by separation from their loves and sorrow at their loss, “Then what to say / About other men!” Regular, common men stand no chance against these overpowering forces. The scale of Xiang Yu’s and Ming Huang’s power does seem to accentuate their specific grief, but this in turn serves to magnify the force of grief in general, making it something deeply human. Indeed, in sijo at this time, this was “a new representation of Chinese legendary figures” (6). The texts of this type “depict them as ordinary people who have their weaknesses and limitations” and who “may face ordinary problems” (6), perhaps something new for sijo, but also an overarching theme of the Yang Guifei story itself.

Despite this, the Yang Guifei story does not seem to enjoy as much of an influence on the art and literature of Korea as on that of China or Japan. Of course the story would have been well known from a historical point of view, as this sijo demonstrates, but uniquely Korean representations or retellings of the story have been hard to find. Perhaps the fault is in our own resources, but perhaps the story itself, so seeped in the failings of its central lovers and often concerned with the eternal nature of their love, is shameful to the very Confucian sensibilities of Korea, something this national culture has not been interested in carrying forward.

Works Cited

Guryeva, Anastasia A. “Allusions and Citations in the Context of New Tendencies in Korean Vernacular Poetry of Late Chosŏn.” SOAS-AKS Working Papers in Korean Studies, no. 42, University of London, May 2014, pp. 3-6. https://www.soas.ac.uk/koreanstudies/overseas-leading-university-programmes/soas-aks-working-papers-in-korean-studies-ii/file92640.pdf.

Song of Lasting Pain

“Song of Lasting Pain” by Bai Juyi is a depiction of Yang Guifei’s story through the usage of poetry. While this story has various different depictions and retellings, “Song of Lasting Pain” focuses heavily on the pure and eternal emotions felt between Yang Guifei and Emperor Xuanzong, spending little time on the rebellion aspect of the story. The poetic format of “Song of Lasting Pain” allows readers to more deeply understand and empathize with the feelings felt by both Yang Guifei and Emperor Xuanzong, while other literary elements, like allusion, also enhance readers’ experiences.

The most striking aspect of “Song of Lasting Pain” is the profound descriptions of emotion, especially love. Early on in the poem, readers begin to understand how deeply the Emperor loves Yang Guifei: “In the harems there were beauties, three thousand there were in all, but the love that was due to three thousand was spent on one body alone” (Owen, 443). The Emperor had the power to involve himself with any number of women in his harem, but despite that, he chose to devote himself solely to Yang Guifei. This deep, vivid description can actually evoke multiple senses from viewers, awakening their imagination. Using poetry, Bai Juyi effectively shows, rather than just tells, readers just how much Yang Guifei and the Emperor loved each other.

Aside from showing readers the relationship between Yang Guifei and the Emperor, the pure emotion and eternal love that is depicted in the beginning of the poem also heightens the tragedy of Yang Guifei’s death, allowing readers to more deeply empathize with the Emperor’s loss. “Song of Lasting Pain” only spends about five stanzas depicting the rebellion and Yang Guifei’s subsequent death, but even in this small part of the poem, the Emperor’s sorrow is clearly shown: “Her flowered hairpins fell to earth, and no one picked them up, the kingfisher wing, the sparrow of gold, the jade pick for the hair. Our lord and ruler covered his face, unable to protect her; he looked around, and blood and tears were flowing there together” (Owen, 444). As readers, we’re able to clearly imagine this scene occurring and understand how helpless and despaired the Emperor feels. Even after the depiction of the rebellion, readers receive further descriptions of the Emperor’s lament:

“When he was home, his pools and parks

were all as they had been before,

there were lotuses in Tai-ye Pool,

and willows at Wei-Yang.

But the lotuses looked like her face,

and the willows seemed like her brows,

before such scenes how could he stop

tears from streaming down?” (Owen, 443-444)

Even long after her death, the Emperor continued to see Yang Guifei wherever he went and could not move on from her, further showing readers his deep, eternal love for her. These vivid descriptions allow readers to better imagine the heartbreak and pain he went through as he walked away from the lifeless Yang Guifei, forced to return to his life without her. As such, readers can empathize with the love and the tragedy that is depicted in “Song of Lasting Pain.”

Allusion in poetry can bring forth more context and provide readers with far better understanding. One usage of allusion in “Song of Lasting Pain” is foreshadowing. In the opening stanza it reads, “Han’s sovereign prized the beauty of flesh, he longed for such as ruins domains” (Owen, 443). This refers to the story between to the Emperor Wu of Han and Lady Li because the characters for “ruins domains” come from a song Lady Li’s brother Yanian sang to the Emperor. This story has similar parallels to Yang Guifei’s, as Li’s entire family corrupted the emperor’s harem and were later all killed. This allusion to another historical beauty helps push readers to discover connections between separate historical events and distill timeless philosophies instead of just forming a reaction to a single event, which in this case, would be solely to “Song of Lasting Pain.” Additionally, due to the nature of writing Chinese poetry, poets often rely on allusions to expand on meaning in their poems because of the limited number of characters used. Without allusions, it may be impossible to fit everything the author would like to say within the strict poetic format. Thus, allusions can actually help preserve the beauty of Chinese poetry syntax. However, it’s also important to note that at the time this was written, it’s plausible that many of the people who read poetry were familiar with the aforementioned story between Emperor Wu and Lady Li. But today, it’s possible that many readers of “Song of Lasting Pain” may not be, which prevents them from wholly understanding and appreciating the work this poem does. So, while allusion is a vital way of enhancing a poem story, it can hinder some readers’ experiences if they lack of prior knowledge. But, of course, conversely, if readers do understand the references, the reading experience can instead be enhanced.

“Song of Lasting Pain,” with its vivid descriptions, causes readers to feel empathize deeply with the Emperor, understanding both the depth of his love for Yang Guifei and his subsequent sadness after her death. Other poetic elements, such as allusion, can further enhance readers’ experiences, allowing them to make connections between different parts of histories. Allusions also allow poetry to fit more meaning into its few characters, thereby preserving its syntax. Of course, vivid descriptions and allusion are not exclusive to poetry, but they are still of utmost importance in “Song of Lasting Pain,” providing readers with a fulfilling, heart throbbing experience while also preserving the beauty of Chinese poetry syntax.

Works Cited:

Owen, Stephen. An Anthology of Chinese Literature : Beginnings to 1911. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.

The Qing and Ping Tune

Original poems by Li Bai and translations by respectively Andrew Wong, Andrew Wong, and Betty Tseng

Unlike any other text introduced on this website, Li Bai’s three quatrains to “The Qing and Ping Tune” were said to have been composed during Prized Consort Yang’s lifetime. Serving in the Hanlin Academy, an institution tasked with drafting official documents, Li allegedly wrote these poems at the emperor’s request some time between 742 and 744, when the emperor and his beloved consort were enjoying the beautiful view of peonies at the Aloewood Pavilion (Xie). Rising to the challenge of a stringent word limit, Li’s quatrains use imageries, allusions, and environmental depictions to convey Lady Yang’s flowerlike beauty.

Compared to Bai Juyi, author of “Song of Lasting Pain,” Li faces even more constraints in terms of syntax, as the poems are sung to “The Qing and Ping Tune” and are limited to 28 characters each. However, Bai and Li draw from a common literary tradition and use similar figurative language to create powerful impressions through just a few words. Like Bai who compares Yang’s face to “a flower,” Li exclaims that “in flowers, [one can] see her face,” likely pointing to the peonies in front of the royal couple to pay tribute to Yang’s elegance (Owen 442, “其1”). The two poets also adopt similar allusions. Like “the Maid Shuang-cheng” in “Song of Lasting Pain,” the “Hills of Emerald” and the “Jasper Terrace” in Li’s poem refer to features associated with the mythological Queen Mother of the West, suggesting that Yang’s beauty has reached a divine level (Owen 446, “其1”). Finally, Bai and Li touch on the same natural elements to create a similar romantic atmosphere. Both poets speak of the spring breeze, which is associated with the germination of life and thus romantic love (Owen 445, Tseng).

However, unlike in “Song of Lasting Pain,” An Lushan’s rebellion and Yang’s eventual death apparently have not yet occurred and do not seem to shadow the happiness Lady Yang brings to the emperor: “Released into infinite spring breezes are his countless worries” (Tseng). Like Bai, Li does allude to the allure of “[Zhao] Feiyan” and the so-called “all forsaking beauty” of Lady Li, which led to disruptions of court affairs during Han times, but the allusions seem more like illustrations of Yang’s bewitching charm than signs of the emperor’s increasing disregard for duties (Owen 442, 447; “其2;”Tseng). After all, Li himself as a titular Daoist cleric and an avid drinker tended to disregard social norms and follow inner drives like the emperor did with Prized Consort Yang (Owen and Roxnam).

Zhiqian, Zhao. Peony. 1862, https://images.metmuseum.org/CRDImages/as/original/DP161401.jpg. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lady Yang has traditionally been associated with peonies.

Works cited:

Owen, Stephen, and Robert Oxnam. “Great Tang Poets: Li Bo (701-762).” Asian Topics, 2019, http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/at/libo/lb02.html. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Li Bai.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1 Jan. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Li-Bai.

Tseng, Betty. “319 Li Bai – Qing Ping Diao San Shou Qi San 319 李白 – 清平調三首其三” [319 Li Bai – The Third of Three Pieces to ‘The Qing and Ping Tune’]. English Translation of Chinese Poetry —— 中文詩詞英譯, 23 Nov. 2010, https://28utscprojects.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/319/.

Wong, Andrew. “Classical Chinese Poems in English: 李白 Li Bai: 清平調 3首 其1 To the Qing and Ping Tune (for Lady Yang), I of 3.” Classical Chinese Poems in English, 1 June 2010, http://chinesepoemsinenglish.blogspot.com/2010/06/li-bai-1st-of-three-verses-to-qing-and.html.

—. “李白 Li Bai: 清平調 3首 其2 To the Qing and Ping Tune (for Lady Yang), 2 of 3.” Classical Chinese Poems in English, 2 Aug. 2010, http://chinesepoemsinenglish.blogspot.com/2010/08/li-bai-2nd-of-three-verses-to-qing-and.html.

Xie, Fangde, et al., editors. Qian Jia Shi Ping Dian Yi Shi 《千家诗》评点译释 [Comments and Notes on Poetries of a Thousand Poets]. 1st ed., Hua Zhong Li Gong Da Xue Chu Ban She, 1992.

Zhao, Zhiqian. Peony. 1862, https://images.metmuseum.org/CRDImages/as/original/DP161401.jpg. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Gazing on Huaqing Palace at Daybreak

“Gazing on Huaqing Palace at Daybreak” works to build a contrast between a fleeting beauty in nature and the seeming immortality of the Emperor. The Warrior Emperor’s body will never die, which contrasts Yang’s fate. He seeks immortality and longevity. However, the Emperor certainly was not immortal, conflicting reality with perception. The Emperor’s perceived immortality could reflect a mindset at the time: the emperor was inherently linked with the Heavens, and he sought what was in his best interest. The emperor was focused on building an empire and a palace, which the poem establishes. This reflects the historical times: internal actors were at war and were vying for land and power. Furthermore, this poem uses jade as a symbol of beauty, which is similar to the painting “Emperor Xuanzong’s Flight to Shu,” which is also on this website.

Works Cited

Owen, Stephen. “Interlude: Emperor Xuan-Zong and Yang the Prized Consort.” Anthology of Chinese Literature, W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.


On Passing by Hauqing Palace

“On Passing by Huaqing Palace” consists of three lyrical quatrains, each of which seems to evoke a different idea. Each section seems to incorporate the image of nature throughout and evokes many ideas in few words, similar to other Tang poems. Moreover, this piece has similar syntax to “Song of Lasting Pain,” and the lines work with each other in couplet form. Du Mu speaks indirectly about the rebellion in Chang’an, specifically outside of the Palace, which still is in existence today. The rebellion existed throughout the country, but this particular piece seems to mainly focus on Chang’an.

The first stanza creates a scene of high crested hills outside of Chang’an. It is in this scene that man rides into the picture, bringing lychees. This action in and of itself is an abuse of power: the man is using an army consort to pick lychees, likely for Yang. This abuse of power reflects the idea of violating one’s defined role out of desire, in this case for a woman.

In the second stanza, this theme of violating one’s societal role continues. It begins with a nature scene of green trees, creating a sense that society should follow the natural order. However, the investigators seem to disrupt this natural harmony, as they are not truthful about their findings. This goes against inherent Confucian principles of fulfilling your role and acting with virtue. This contradicts the peace of nature.

The third scene has nature imagery as well with the moonlight and clouds. The clouds could prevent light, implying dark times. This contrasts the daytime of the earlier stanzas. An Lushan is dancing in this scene, likely to entertain Yang. This does not seem very kingly, as An Lushan is overtaken with passion and laughter, contradicting his expected behavior. He is going against the natural order. In this way, this scene also embodies the constant tug-and-pull between expectations and reality. Moreover, the laughter seems to be directed at the fate of the empire.

Works Cited

Owen, Stephen. “Interlude: Emperor Xuan-Zong and Yang the Prized Consort.” Anthology of Chinese Literature, W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.




Lament by the River

Partial translation by Stephen Owen.

“Lament by the River” works to recall Lady Yang’s visit to a park. It evokes a great deal of emotion and meaning in limited words, similar to many other Tang style poems. It somewhat parallels “Song of Lasting Pain” in its syntax: seven characters per verse. Moreover, there is intricate interaction between verses in couplets, as one line often leads into another. For example, Yang’s “bright eyes and sparkling teeth” contrast the gory blood. The poem asks questions as if internalizing and processing events. In this way, the poem often resembles a stream of consciousness.

However, the poem never mentions Yang by name, giving a sense of mystique. The poem speaks of and describes Yang in the third person. She attends to her lord’s side, reflecting the idea of Confucian gender roles: women were to be submissive and follow men.

Moreover, there is further sense of conflict as Yang’s serene beauty is contrasted with handmaidens who bare bows and arrows. This reflected a warring time period, yet even in this chaos there is still beauty. Even though Yang is incredibly beautiful, nature is indifferent: she dies just like the rest of the population. This reflects the idea of Daoism in that the Heaven and earth are not benevolent. Daoism also states “天道无亲,” heaven’s way is impartial.

The poem evokes deep emotion and is nostalgic in a sense, as the author speaks of the past. There is an overall sense of sadness, as it opens ominously with the image of a weeping man and a locked palace, implying a sense of desertion. Moreover, the image of blood and death is prevalent throughout. The poem reflects the grief for the death and Du Fu’s perception of the downfall of the empire in this way.

The Original Poem by Du Fu

Full Translation by Witter Byner

Works Cited

Owen, Stephen. “Interlude: Emperor Xuan-Zong and Yang the Prized Consort.” Anthology of Chinese Literature, W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

Hengtang Tuishi. “300 Tang Poems.” University of Virginia, https://cti.lib.virginia.edu/tangeng.html. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.