Tune: Tipsy in the Flowers’ Shade
Thin is the mist and thick the clouds, so sad I stay.
From golden censer incense smokes all day.
The Double Ninth comes now again;
Alone I still remain
In the curtain of gauze, on pillow smooth like jade,
Feeling the midnight chill invade.
At dusk I drink before chrysanthemums in bloom;
My sleeves are filled with fragrance and with gloom.
Say not my soul
Is not consumed. Should western wind uproll
The curtain of my bower,
‘Twould show a thinner face than yellow flower.
(Translated by Xu Yuanchong)
It was rare to have a female poet in ancient China, let alone one as talented as Li Qingzhao. The fact that women were considered to be better at housework than playing intellectual (智力的) roles was probably to blame for this.
Li was famous for her description of chou (愁，depression). When she wrote Tune: Tipsy in the Flowers’ Shade, for example, she and her husband Zhao Mingcheng were separated because he was seeking education in another city. In the poem, Li shares her feelings of how time seems to stand still when it’s spent alone, and how her body has withered (枯萎) like a flower due to depression. Even on the Double Ninth Festival – a time of year in China for family gatherings, which falls on the lunar calendar’s Sept 9 – Li has only herself to be with.
But despite her sensitivity, Li was never stuck in her negative emotions. She had an inner power, which can be seen in the poem below. It was written when Li and Zhao reunited after escaping from wars, and Li was disappointed to find that Zhao had become a cowardly (懦弱的) man. In the poem, Li makes it clear that she believes integrity (正直) and loyalty (忠诚) are the most valuable qualities of a “real” man.