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Chapter Four Li De and Individual Introspection in the Southern Garden In this lone, open glade I lie, Screen’d by deep boughs on either hand; And at its end, to stay the eye, Those black-crown’d, red-boled pine-trees stand! Birds here make song, each bird has his, Across the girdling city’s hum. How green under the boughs it is! How thick the tremulous sheep-cries come! … Calm soul of all things! make it mine To feel, amid the city’s jar, That there abides a peace of thine, Man did not make, and cannot mar. —Mathew Arnold, “Lines Written in Kensington Gardens” In the extant poetry of the quintet from Guangzhou, only Li De joined with Sun Fen in composing verses dedicated to the theme of the Southern Garden, although the garden does get mentioned in passing in the verse of Huang Zhe and Zhao Jie.1 But Li De’s treatment is much different from the overall thrust of Sun’s poems, for Li does not dwell on the garden as social setting; rather, being in office far away from Guangdong, he recalls certain physical aspects as points of departure for either painfully recalled romances or philosophical musings. In the first poem, the Southern Garden serves as a private spot, conjuring up memories peculiar to Li and a love interest. The translation, though dealing with a recollection from the past, is set in the historical present. Since several of the poems in this introspective mode are rather allusive, I have appended a paraphrase to some of them to attempt to produce a coherent interpretation and added a section of commentary: Li De, “Recalling the Southern Garden” 憶南園 2 南園蝴蝶飛 In the Southern Garden butterflies flit, 綠草迷行迹 On green grass are traces of meandering. 青鏡掃長蛾 By green-bronze mirror she sweeps her long moth-like eyebrows, 娟娟弄春碧 Gracefully and winsomely she adjusts the blue of youthful makeup. 錦屏千里夢 By damasked screen her dreams a thousand miles away, 寂寞愁芳色 Forlorn and alone, she frets over fragrant beauty. 小字寫長箋 With small characters they write lengthy missives— 鱗鴻坐相隔 But like fish and fowl, they dwell separate from each other. Paraphrase: Although the Southern Garden is buzzing with natural life, He wanders around unheeding, dazed with loneliness. Meanwhile, far off at her toilet in the seclusion of the boudoir, She touches up an already perfectly powdered face. All made up now, she rests in splendor, dreaming of her distant love; Lonely, she grieves that her beauty is wasted. They can communicate by sending each other long letters, But they remain separated by social circumstance. Commentary: Images of youth and colors mix together, pervading this pentasyllabic poem. The former include the “green” of the bronze mirror and the “spring” of youthful beauty. The latter consist of the green of natural vegetable dyes 綠; cyan blue 碧; and the hue of sensuous beauty 色. In poetic diction the term juanjuan, “graceful and winsome” 娟娟, describes many things: the charm and bloom of youthful beauty, the luster of moonlight, the grace of butterflies in flight, and the brilliance of alluring eyebrows. All of these images resonate throughout the poem with specific references. A reflection of the moon is also indicated by the term “mirror.” Juanjuan and the interplay of its major connotations, then, contribute to the coherence and tight structure of the poem. 82 The Southern Garden Poetry Society Thematically, Li De has utilized a conventional genre, Palace Poetry 宮題, and its subgenre, Palace Plaint 閨怨, that of the neglected lady in a boudoir; but he utilizes the Southern Garden to localize the lonely male persona who is separated from his love. But the persona remembers her personally as a lover, and not as one of the entertaining geishas commonly present at the social soirees described by Sun Fen. The emphasis is therefore not on public socializing in the garden but the loneliness engendered by its now empty precincts. Perhaps this loneliness is reflected phonetically by the entering-tone internal and end rhymes of sudden, harsh p, t, k finals that, while lost in the Early Mandarin of the Late Yuan period, still registered in Cantonese (jik 跡, bik 碧, sik 色, gaak 隔, in Yale romanization).3 This piece enjoyed a minor afterlife, for in a poem sent to Qu Dajun by Zhu Yizun in 1657, Zhu seems to be alluding to the first two lines of Li’s offering: “Butterflies fly in the spring wind,/Green grass covers the Southern Garden” 春風蝴蝶飛, 綠草南園遍.4 And perhaps a touch of Daoist transcendentalism is hinted at by the presence of the butterflies, for...


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