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Li Qingzhao: A Cold Sun Climbs Up My Crafted Window - to the Tune of Zhegutian -鹧鸪天·寒日萧萧上锁窗

A Cold Sun Climbs Up My Crafted Window
– to the Tune of Zhegutian

Translated by Julia Min

A cold sun climbs up my crafted window

thro’ phoenix trees robbed bare by frost night.

A bit tipsy, I prefer the tea ball’s bitter taste;

For the broken dream, I deem Dragon’s Delight.

Why the day feels long but short thro’ the night?

Zhongxuan’s poem only makes nostalgia right.

Easy friend, easy aye, waste not the nice wine.

On yellow chrysanths, Tao’s insights enlights.


This ci poem marks the theme mood of her later life after the fall of Northern Song Dynasty. It was most likely written after her husband’s death, in my opinion, though thought by others to be the year 1128 when her husband was appointed by the Emperor as the Mayor of Jiangling ( later changed to ‘Jiankang’ by the Emperer; today’s Nanjing City).

Chrysanthemum is the flower in her late years. She has kind of monopolized it with unparallel verse that it seems to belong to her though she refers to Tao Yuanming here. Others would feel hard pressed whenever writing about the flower as it would seem better to quote her phrase than create a new one.

An obvious shift could be sensed between the first couplet and the second couplet in each of the stanzas. It’s an uplift in spirit brought by a new broad-minded tolerance, at least some active effort, towards the sufferings. A precision of emotion with pointy language is empowered through the contrast of‘xiāo xiāo’ and ‘ hèn’ with ‘xǐ’and ‘yí’, ‘rì yóu chǎng’with‘bú rú suí fèn’and‘mò fù dōng lí’. Emily Dickinson might come to your mind.

Such transcendence didn’t come easy considering her carefree childhood and a happy marriage suddenly shocked by the Jin’s invasion followed by their ten households of literary collections burned, and ultimately her husband’s death. Alone in a strange land in her fifties, Qingzhao had every reason to feel pessimistic and doomed. However, here in this poem she seems to have learned ways to calm down, to accept and live with miseries for a new balance, the kind of seclusive and vigorous temperament we would expect to see in gentlemen’s society, such as Su Dongpo, and Tao Yuanming. Miseries do make people stronger. we could see our lady now settled in peacefully for a life in seclusion with a much smaller circle of friends, a grace not lost in defeat during her remaining years. The song ‘Let It Be’ comes to my ear.

The Source Ci in Chinese:











Pinying and Word -For-Word Translation:

zhè gū tiān – Zhegutian, the musical tune for this song,which also defines the rhyming scheme and number of words used for this ci poem;

hán rì xiāo xiāo shàng suǒ chuāng – The bleak and cold sun beams slowly climb up my windows carved with entangled designs;

wú tóng yīng hèn yè lái shuāng – The parasol trees must hate the cold frost of last night;

jiǔ lán gèng xǐ tuán chá kǔ – After drowsy drinking I favour the bitter taste of black tea made of brick-tea balls;

mèng duàn piān yí ruì nǎo xiāng – When my dream is interrupted the aroma of Ruinao incense serves best calming me down;

qiū yǐ jìn,rì yóu zhǎng – Autumn is now ended. Somehow the day feels longer;

zhòng xuān huái yuǎn gèng qī liáng – Even Zhongxuan’s nostalgia for his homeland is not as miserable as mine;

bú rú suí fèn zūn qián zuì – How about we forget the past, and drink up the wine of the banquet;

mò fù dōng lí jú ruǐ huáng – Better not let down the golden chrysanthemum in full bloom by the East Fence;


wú tóng –Chinese parasol tree, often used in Chinese literature symbolizing descent and pure love in spring and summer, while cold, bleak and lonely sentiments after the leaves fallen;

tuán chá – hard-pressed brick-tea, in the shape of one-serve small ball or of pan-cake, which people of Song would first crumble into tea powder before serving. Premium quality brick teas are usually in the name of Dragon or Phoenix.

ruì nǎo xiāng – Ambergris, a top quality incense, called Longxian Incense in China;

zhòng xuān — A prodigy in the late Han dynasty ( around 200 BC), the best of The Seven Gentlemen of Jian’an. Here our lady poet must refers to his most famous work “ Up the Castle”, a piece in perfect rhythm and rhetoric to express his intense nostalgia for homeland.

dōng lí – from a famous poem by Tao Yuanming (365 – 427 AC), one of the best known poets of the Six Dynasties period. “ Picking chrysanthemum flowers by the east fence, my carefree mind sees only the Blue Mountain.”(translated by Julia Min). Chrysanthemum is highly regarded as one of the Four Gentlemen in plants, bearing the symbolic meaning of bravery spirit against frost and snow even though so tender and slim,a moral quality not lost in harsh times. Interesting to know that in English, a yellow chrysanthemum blossom in English signifies neglected love or sorrow.

未经允许不得转载:STUDY IN CHINA GLOBAL (SCG) » Li Qingzhao: A Cold Sun Climbs Up My Crafted Window - to the Tune of Zhegutian
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