SONGS OF THE FOUR SEASONS:
SPRING & SUMMER
TRANSLATED BY MICHAEL WORKMAN
“TZU-YEH’S Songs of the Four Seasons” arose during the Period of Political Division (third to seventh centuries A. D.) among the peopie of the Wu district near the modern city of Soochow. They are classified as Southern or New Music Bureau poems. These simple love lyrics have exerted a lasting influence on Chinese poetry: most of the traditional love motifs in Chinese literature were perfected in these poems. The “Songs’’ which were not accompanied by music, followed the form of four regular lines each five words in length.
The poems were popular models for contemporary poets in the Chin and Liu-Sung dynasties (fourth-fifth centuries), and the famous poet Li Po wrote poems in the Tzu-yeh manner. In late T’ang and early Sung times writers of the emergent t’zu form of poetry were attracted to these folk poems. The three collections of Tzu-yeh poems (some 124 extant in all) remain important examples of Chinese folk poetry, even though editorial changes by literati are apparent in the poems.
Legend ascribes the authorship of these poems to an individual poetess, Tzu-yeh or Lady Midnight. However a man’s viewpoint shows through unmistakably in some poems, and several of the songs are poetic duets (dialogues) between young lovers. But the voice of a feminine persona speaks in the majority of the poems. This unknown poetess seems to embody for the sentimental people of the Wu district the varied personality of love itself.
The emotions of love, heartache, longing, joy, and bitterness dominate these poems. A latent sensual power is implicit in recurrent natural images and in the elaborate punning. Spring wind (love, youth), plum blossoms and swallows (pretty girls), wild geese (friendship and parting), hibiscus flowers (the husband’s face), lotus seeds (love play, birth), the bright moon, the north wind, white snow, and cruel frost are emblematic of the variety of human moods. Rusticity and sophistication, scenes of ribaldry, then coquettishness follow one another in pleasing contrast. But the nocturnal lady always returns to her sober thoughts about human life, its transiency, and her own melancholy.
My translations from this collection of seventy-five seasonal poems follow the traditional sequence as transmitted by its compiler, Kuo Mao-ch’ien, in the Yüeh-fu shih-chi, chüan 44, Ssu-pu ts’ung-kan edition.
TZU-YEH’S SONGS OF THE FOUR SEASONS
This spring breeze stirs a springtime heart.
And eyes never still to gaze at the mountains
Where forests in shimmering colors abound,
Gay birds pour out their songs in the sun.
Green sprouts skirt the length of road.
Red peppers weigh down the purple stalks.
A melodious din at the outskirts of town,
Together we rejoice with spring flowers.
Luminous winds flicker in the moon rise.
Once again the woodland is a brocade of flowers.
Lovers frolic under the spring moon,
And bashful maidens trail robes of gauze.
Her enchanted face looks at the view;
The landscape offers its many charms.
When gentle breezes enter the south window,
This lady at the loom cherishes the spring.
Before jade pavilions the new moon dims.
Silk dresses cling to the light breeze.
The lure of spring holds back a song,
The cassia wine makes my cheeks shine.
A cuckoo sings behind the bamboos.
Plum blossoms scatter in the roadway.
A beautiful girl* roams under a spring moon.
Her silk skirt trails in fragrant grass.
Bright lights illumine park greenery.
Artemisia glows in the network of stars.
How can I do embroidery in my chamber—
The only woman to shy away from spring!
Bright clouds glide in brilliant sunlight.
A fragrant breeze scatters forest flowers.
The lovely one paces in the spring park.
Her sash whirls among the flowers.
Thin silk robes cover her reddish sleeves,*
Jade hairpins, moon-shaped earrings.
Let us venture out upon the dew of spring:
To find young men as companions in love.
So rich in charm, the blooms in spring forests.
So pitiful, the cries of spring birds.
Spring wind again caressingly
Parts this silken dress of mine.
Young swallows blare out their new tune.
Cuckoos vie in morning racket.
The thrush intent upon its own refrain—
As I rove, easing this spring heart.
Plum flowers all fallen and gone.
Willow catkins are escorted by the wind.
How I lament that in the spring of life
No young man has beckoned me!
Once parting geese gathered at the sandbar.
Now, nesting swallows greet us in the eave.
Dare we forego a long farewell?
Only if we will meet in spring’s brightness!
Spring garden flowers near yellow.
Ponds from sunshine run green.
We must fill our wine cups to the brim:
Let’s tune our strings, end our ditty.
Demurely she lifts her dancing sleeves,
The utter sweep of her weightless shape:
Iridescent these flowers still—
Irreverent spring mood, breeze-bred.
Splendid, wondrous her dancing air,
She sways in time with the new song.
Her blue dress comes from the gay capital,*
She turns toward me and nods with love.
Bright moonlight shines on the cassia,
Early blooms, a delicate brocade.
Who could forget him
Or sit alone before a loom?
Far rougher times are ahead on this path
Though I’ve no longer any cares for myself.
Spring breeze rouses the dazzling woodland.
Still I fear the flowers will drop off.
As I went out to see spring flowers by moonlight,
The magnolia blocked my path.†
Meeting you, how I longed to pluck.
Alas, my hand was deceived.
Since I parted from my lover,
The echo of my sigh has never hushed.
Each spring the yellow bud grows.
Its bitter core enlarges day after day.
The high hall rises without walls,
Kidnapping winds from every side.
They spread open my lover’s silk skirt.
Your glum face breaks into laughter.
Toss and turn on luxurious mats.
No need for gauze curtains.
Young man, better not rush in now,
Before I have made myself ready.
Early spring began without you, unhappy.
Autumn, winter—still more frozen loneliness.
Playing together in the harsh summer heat,
We share a kindred passion.
Spring goodbyes compare to spring longings.
Summer returns find affection lengthened.
For whom are silk curtains raised?
How much time before I need two pillows?
Neatly I set the fan on the bed
And imagine distant winds approach.
Dainty sleeves brush the powdered face—
An elegant lady climbs the tower.*
We shared the taste of delicious cherries;
You offered a fan as a symbol of love.
Touched by your deep devotion,
Within this fragrant chamber, I wait to welcome you.
Though fieldwork and silkworm tasks are over,
An anxious wife has not stopped her chores.
In summer heat she arranges thin robes
To dispatch to her husband far away.
At dawn I stand on cool roof gardens.
At eve I sleep by the orchid pond.
In moonlight I husband hibiscus flowers.*
Each night I gather the lotus seeds.†
All winds died that hot day
As summer clouds lifted in the dusk.
Hand in hand beneath dense foliage,
We floated melons and sank ripe plums.
Vapors arising, this mid-summer’s month,
I whistle, walking around the lake.
The lotus has just begun to bear leaves,
Though comely, the flower has not borne seed.‡
Just now I spy him with a green cap—
All spring again has vanished.
The briar thrush has changed its tune.
Among the trees chirp summer crickets.
The spring peach now ripens.
Spare its blush, I fear your rude hands.
When a flower drops in resplendent summer,
Who will return for its fallen petals?
When we said goodbye, spring wind was rising.
Summer clouds float in the sky as I come back.
The roads were long, days and months hurried by,
I did not dawdle on purpose.
Green lotus leaves, a canopy on the pond.
Each lotus flower conceals a ruby crown.
The gentlemen longs to pluck me off.
But my heart yearns for the lotus seed.
Surrounded by a pond of water lilies,
The red hall opens with no inner screens.
Prized bamboo mats and the jade-inlaid bed.
Our union blesses us at will.
In this fierce summer month
Is there anyone else to fan you?
An elegant lady on the jade terrace,
Inviting your favors in the coolness.
Spring over, mulberry leaves all gone,
Silkworm tasks of early summer past.
I’ve plied with thread and spool.
How I wish to tie the knot soon! *
Indeed summer heat is well known,
Here today it’s especially hot.
A perfumed kerchief to dust the cool mat;
With him I climb the stairs to rest.
These scanty clothes too drab.
Even a whirlwind brings no relief.
When will these stifling summer days pass,
So I can amuse you with rouge and powder?
Though humid summer’s unfit for excursions,
As multiple cares snarl about me,
I long to sail on the lotus lake
To scatter my thoughts among lotus seeds.
* Yen-nü also may refer to a girl from Yen in North China.
* The reference may be to a girl’s blushing arms.
* The capital may be Lo-yang.
† han-hsiao, literally, “to smile,’’ can mean the magnolia, “the smiling flower [han-hsiao-hua].”
* It was common for a woman to go to some high place to watch for the return of her beloved.
* A pun on fu-yung, the hibiscus, which is homonymie with a husband’s face.
† “lotus-seed” (lien) means “children” (lien-tzu).
‡ Another play on the words for lotus and seed, cf. Summer xiv, xv, xx.
* Literally ch’eng-р’i means “to complete a roll of cloth,” which can be construed to mean “to become a pair or couple” The word for “roll” or “piece” is homonymie with that for “pair.”