Saturday, October 30, 2010

"Clean and Even Music" (to the tune of) - Emperor Li Yu

 Li Yu, the last Emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty, only ruled for fourteen years, but during his reign, his support of the arts made his kingdom an important cultural center.   Personally talented as a musician, painter, and calligrapher, he is recognized for his contributions to a lyric form of poetry which the succeeding Song Dynasty further developed.  It was also a poem that caused his death at the age of forty-one, when he was ordered to drink poisoned wine by first emperor of the Song Dynasty, who had conquered and imprisoned him.  (Li's poem, to the tune "Beauty Yu", had been sung by the Song Emperor's own female court musicians!  Not hard to see how that could have annoyed him....)   I include here as it is a - real - killer of a poem....

Today is also the anniversary of my father's passing, eleven years ago. He suffered a massive heart attack and died in a hospital emergency room with me at bedside.   He was eighty-four years old at the time.  I chose the poem below because lamentation for a loss applies also to filial love.  And because the line about someone being so far away that not even a dream can reach them is particularly meaningful: he is infrequently now in my dreams, though I think of him regularly and keep his memory.  I miss him and am now more glad than mortified when I recognize him in how I speak or laugh a certain way sometimes.

 “Clean and Even Music”  (to the tune of)

Since you left, Spring is half gone
and everything I see breaks my heart:
a chaos of plum petals falling by steps like snowflakes.
I brush them off and they cover me again.

Migrating wild geese bring me no word of you.
The road is so long that my dream cannot reach you.
The grief of departure is like spring grass
-- the farther you go, the deeper it grows.

                                                                       Emperor Li Yu (aka Li Houzhu “last ruler”)

And the killer poem:

"Beauty Yu:  (to the tune of)

 Will Spring blooms and autumn never end?
These memories are too much.
Last night east wind pierced my narrow tower again,
and I saw lost kingdoms in the clean bright moon.
The carved railings and jade steps must still be there,
though lovely faces must have aged.
How much sorrow do I feel?
Like river water in spring, it flows to the east.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, my name is Kirsty and I've just spent the better part of my evening reading your blog. I noticed you seemed perplexed by the lack of response and so I wanted to write and tell you how much I've enjoyed reading these poems! Thank you for putting them all in one place, where they are easily accessible, it's been a fabulous night of delving into other people's words and thoughts.

    If you'd like to start a dialogue about them I'd be more than happy to do so! My email is and I'm happy to talk about poetry until the cows come home!

    Kind Regards,


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