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Li Qingzhao: The Fragrance of Pink Lotus Faded -一剪梅·红藕香残玉簟秋

The Fragrance of Pink Lotus Faded
– to the Tune of Yijianmei

Translated by Gordon Osing and Julia Min

The fragrance of pink lotus faded,

the bamboo mat chilled.

Slowly I undo my brocade,

sighing, and step alone to my boat.

The clouds were no letters

wafted to me on silk.

No swallows’ letters mine,

the moon on the west porch glows.

Whatever bloomed and fallen,

whatever flows still.

In two sorrowful worlds,

one heartsickness endures.

Nothing can dull or drive away

what and how we feel;

What the brow loosens,

all the more the heart holds.


According to Another Collection of Li Qing-zhao this ci was written in 1101, hen she had just married. Mingcheng was traveling quite far away and she is reputed to have sent him this poem painted on a silk handkerchief, a familiar gesture of special intimacy in those days. The ci is sometimes called, in fact, “Sorrow for Departure.” It is remarkable for its openness and directness in expressing a lady’s loneliness for her husband, a role somewhat precluded by custom in medieval,feudal China.

The Source Text in Chinese:















Pinying and Word -For-Word Translation:

yī jiǎn méi – the musical tune

hóng ǒu xiāng cán yù diàn qiū – pink lotus fragrance fade, bamboo mat autumn cold

qīng jiě luó shang – slowly take off brocade dress,

dú shàng lán zhōu – alone step on the boat.

yún zhōng shuí jì jǐn shū lái – from the clouds who sends silk letter to me.

yàn zì huí shí – swallow character return time,

yuè mǎn xī lóu – moonlight fills the west balcony.

huā zì piāo líng shuǐ zì liú – flower itself falls, water itself flows.

yī zhǒng xiàng sī – one kind of lovesickness,

liǎng chù xián chou – two places sorrow.

cǐ qíng wú jì kě xiāo chú – this feeling no way to drive away.

cái xià méi tóu – just down from the eyebrows,

què shàng xīn tóu – but up to the heart.


luo shang: dress made of brocade.

yun zhong, etc.: a convention in classical imagery that flying geese are messengers. Lovers used to write / paint his message on a silk handkerchief.

yan zi: the flying formation of the birds in the shape of 人 ( the Chinese character for man), a convention in love poems.

yue man xi lou: The moon is in the west, i.e., it’s after midnight, meaning she’s been up all night.

hua zi, etc.: the fallen flowers are youth’s unanswered longings; the water flowing on is, as usual, time passing beyond recall.

cai xia, etc.: When one stops frowning, the matter of the frown goes into the heart and becomes part of its burden.

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