Cao Xueqin [Qing Dynasty]
As blossoms fade and fly across the sky,
Who pities the faded red, the scent that has been?
Softly the gossamer floats over spring pavilions,
Gently the willow fluff wafts to the embroidered screen.
A girl in her chamber mourns the passing of spring,
No relief from anxiety her poor heart knows;
Hoe in hand she steps through her portal,
Loath to tread on the blossom as she comes and goes.
Willows and elms, fresh and verdant,
Care not if peach and plum blossom drift away;
Next year the peach and plum blossom will bloom again,
But her chamber may stand empty on that day.
By the third month the scented nests are built,
But the swallows on the beam are heartless all;
Next year, though once again you may peck the buds,
From the beam of an empty room your nest will fall.
Each year for three hundred and sixty days
The cutting wind and biting frost contend.
How long can beauty flower fresh and fair?
In a single day wind can whirl it to its end.
Fallen, the brightest blooms are hard to find;
With aching heart their grave-digger comes now
Alone, her hoe in hand, her secret tears
Falling like drops of blood on each bare bough.
Dusk falls and the cuckoo is silent;
Her hoe brought back, the lodge is locked and still;
A green lamp lights the wall as sleep enfolds her,
Cold rain pelts the casement and her quilt is chill.
What causes my two-fold anguish?
Love for spring and resentment of spring;
For suddenly it comes and suddenly goes,
Its arrival unheralded, noiseless its departing.
Last night from the courtyard floated a sad song--
Was it the soul of blossom, the soul of birds,
Hard to detain, the soul of blossom or birds?
For blossoms have no assurance, birds no words.
I long to take wing and fly
With the flowers to earth’s uttermost bound;
And yet at earth’s uttermost bound
Where can a fragrant burial mound be found?
Better shroud the fair petals in silk
With clean earth for their outer attire;
For pure you came and pure shall you go,
Not sinking into some foul ditch or mire.
Now you are dead I come to bury you;
None has divined the day when I shall die;
Men laugh at my folly in burying fallen flowers,
But who will bury me when dead I lie?
See, when spring draws to a close and flowers fall,
This is the season when beauty must ebb and fade;
The day that spring takes wing and beauty fades
Who will care for the fallen blossom or dead maid?
The blossoms fade and falling fill the air,
Of fragrance and bright hues bereft and bare.
Floss drifts and flutters round the Maiden’s bower,
Or softly strikes against her curtained door.
The Maid, grieved by these signs of spring’s decease,
Seeking some means her sorrow to express,
Has rake in hand into the garden gone,
Before the fallen flowers are trampled on.
Elm-pods and willow-floss are fragrant too;
Why care, Maid, where the fallen flowers blew?
Next year, when peach and plum-tree bloom again,
Which of your sweet companions will remain?
This spring the heartless swallow built his nest
Beneath the eaves of mud with flowers compressed.
Next year the flowers will bloom as before,
But swallow, nest, and Maid will be no more.
Three hundred and three-score the year’s full tale:
From swords of frost and from the slaughtering gale
How can the lovely flowers long stay intact,
Or, once loosed, from their drifting fate draw back?
Blooming so steadfast, fallen so hard to find!
Beside the flowers’ grave, with sorrowing mind,
The solitary Maid sheds many a tear,
Which on the boughs as bloody drops appear.
At twilight, when the cuckoo sings no more,
The Maiden with her rake goes in at door
And lays her down between the lamplit walls,
While a chill rain against the window falls.
I know not why my heart’s so strangely sad,
Half grieving for the spring and half glad:
Glad that it came, grieved it so soon was spent.
So soft it came, so silently it went!
Last night, outside, a mournful sound was heard:
The spirits of the flowers and of the bird.
But neither bird nor flowers would long delay,
Bird lacking speech, and flowers too shy to stay.
And then I wished that I had wings to fly
After the drifting flowers across the sky;
Across the sky to the world’s farthest end,
The flowers’ last fragrant resting-place to find.
But better their remains in silk lay
And bury underneath the wholesome clay,
Pure substances the pure earth to enrich,
Than leave to soak and stink in some foul ditch.
Can I, that these flowers’ obsequies attend,
Divine how soon or late my life will end?
Let others laugh flower-burial to see:
Another year who will be burying me?
As petals drop and spring begins to fail,
The bloom of youth, too, sickens and turns pale.
One day, when spring has gone and youth has fled,
The Maiden and the flowers will both be dead
As flowers fall and fly across the skies,
Who rues the red that fades, the scent that dies?
Softly the gossamer floats over bowers green;
Gently the willow fluff wafts to broidered screen.
In my chamber I’m grieved to see spring depart.
Where can I pour out my sorrow-laden heart?
I step out of my portal with a hoe.
On fallen petals could I come and go?
Willow threads and elms leaves are fresh and gay;
They care not if peach and plum blossom drift away.
The peach and plum will bloom next year.
But my chamber who will then appear?
By the third moon the swallows built their nest,
But apathetically on the beam they rest.
Next year though they may peck the buds again,
O in my empty chamber can their nest remain?
For three hundred and sixty days each year,
The cutting wind and biting frost make flowers sear.
How long can they blossom fresh and fair?
Once blown away, they cannot be found anywhere.
Their gravedigger, I find no flowers in bloom;
My aching heart is further filled with gloom.
With hoe in hand, tears secretly shed
Like drops of blood turn bare branches red.
As twilight falls, the cuckoos sing no more;
I come back with my hoe and close the door.
Abed in dim-lit room when night is still,
I hear cold rain and my quilt feels damp and chill.
I wonder why I’m thrown in such a fret:
Is it for love of spring or for regret?
I love it when it comes, regret it when it goes;
But spring comes and goes mute as water flows.
Last night from the courtyard a dirge was heard,
Sung by the soul of flower and of bird.
The bird’s and flower’s soul is hard to detain;
The flowers blush and silent birds remain.
I long on wings to fly
With the flowers to the end of the earth and sky.
At earth’s uttermost bound,
Where can I find a fragrant burial mound?
Why don’t I shroud in silken bag the petals fair
And bury them in the earth forever to mingle there?
Pure they come and pure shall go,
Not sinking to oblivion below.
Now they are dead, I come to bury them today.
Who can divine the date when I shall pass away?
Men laugh at my folly in burying fallen flowers.
But who will bury me when come my last hours?
See spring depart and flowers wither by and by.
This is the time when beauty must grow old and die.
Once spring is gone and beauty dead, alas!
Who will care for the fallen bloom and buried lass?
The poet and the background note:
Cao Xueqin (? ~1764) was one of the most famous novelists and poets in the history of Chinese literature. Born in an influential Manchurian bureaucratic family, he had high cultural accomplishments and outstanding competence for art. During the reign of the Qing Emperor Yongzheng, his father was involved in a political struggle within the ruling class, defeated, so his family suffered a heavy blow both politically and financially. Thereafter, his family circumstances deteriorated. However, adversity brought talent in return. It was when he was plunged in such an embarrassing circumstance that he had the chance to contact himself with the underprivileged of the then society, thus giving him specific, intense experience, and enabling himself to see better of life.
He spent as was recorded, at least ten years busying himself with the production of the novel The Dream of the Red Chamber, in which, through a detailed description of the rise and fall of an influential noble family of that time, he created a great number of typical characters, conducted in-depth analyses and criticisms of the then evil society and, at the same time, sang ebullient praises of both the male and female youths who were considered heretical in pursuit of love.
The Dream of the Red Chamber is seen as a great realistic masterpiece among the Chinese classic novels. But the novel reveals a kind of pessimism and sentimentalism past cure. With the tone of Lin Daiyu, one of the heroines in The Dream of the Red Chamber, the author Cao Xueqin blended human feelings with nature in this novel as if in confirmation of man’s helplessness in the presence of the change of nature and the flight of time.
As is known to all that have read it, Lin is a sentimentalist who, taking as part of her life the enjoyment of flowers and moonlight, tends to shed tears at the sight of flowers falling, and feel sad when finding the moon waning. In fact, Flowers bloom and then flowers die, There’s no need for her to give a sigh. It is the very law of nature, she ought not to take pains to bother. Relentless away time flies, over the natural loss she cries. She was born frail and tender, or because she’s a teenager.
The author intended his novel to be a tragedy, around the theme of which he spread all the plots in it. Here, in this poem he had his heroine Lin utter his aspirations to achieve the artistic effect.