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T'ang Studies 13 (1995) What Did Liuzhi Hear? The "Van Terrace Poems" and the Culture of Romance STEPHEN OWEN HARVARD UNIVERSITY Yan Terrace Poems: Spring ~.~1!Y8 : 5(f. The bright weather moves gradually along the east-west paths, for how many days has the charming soul sought but not found? The honeycomb's winged visitor is like the loving heart, seductive leaves, courtesan twigs recognize him everywhere. Warm and hazy the glow moves slowly west of the peach tress, her high chignon stands at the level of the chignon of the peach tree. Male dragon, hen phoenix, where, faint in the distance? in floss in tangles, the strands profuse, even Heaven loses the way. Rising drunk, the faint sunlight is like first dawnlight, it shines on the curtains, the dream breaks off, the fading words are heard. In sorrow taking an iron net to draw in coral, the sea is vast, the heavens broad, nowhere to be found. The gown's sash lacks all feeling, it may be loose or tight; 81 Owen: The "¥an Terrace Poems" spring mists are naturally sapphire, the autumn frosts are white. Grind cinnabar, split stoneHeaven does not knowwould that Heaven's Jail lock up the wronged soul! The lined clothes are cast off in the chest, the unlined silks brought out, her fragrant flesh, chill, placed between, the tinkling pendants. This day the east wind cannot bear it, it turns into a hidden light entering the Western Sea What are we to make of a poem like "Spring," the first of the uYan Terrace Poems," here given with a bare text and translation, without notes or commentary? As always, and more so in this particular case, translation hides obvious semantic determinations, primarily lexical, that are obvious in the Chinese; for example in the first line U[breeze and] bright weather," fengguang Jml.7'C (literally "wind-light"), is such a fixed attribute of spring that it virtually means "spring weather." If, however, one were to translate the com82 Tang Studies 13 (1995) pound simply as "spring weather," one could lose the element of moving and changing light, essential to understanding the poem. And there is no way English can handle the return of this same compound in the final couplet, where the constituent "wind" and "light" are divided and placed in parallel positions. As English translation sacrifices lexical determinations, it is simultaneously forced to add new determinations that are absent in the Chinese, determinations primarily of agency and sYntax; for example, in the second line the Chinese is ambiguous as to whether the "charming soul" is the seeker or the object sought. In general, however, the Chinese text and the English translation here are comparable in the degree, if not in the precise nature, of their obscurity. Faced with such obscurity, we always turn to the rich Chinese commentarial tradition. There were supposed to have been two Song commentators on Li Shangyin, but their work is no longer extant. There is a small handful of annotations and interpretations of particular works in anthologies and critical writings before the Qing-though no commentary for the "Yan Terrace Poems." The earliest partially extant commentaries to Li Shangyin's poetry come from the Ming-Qing transition period: those of the monk Daoyuan mltJ and Qian Longti ~ffIH~,the latter with a preface dated to 1648.1 In 1659 followed the better and more thorough commentary of Zhu Heling *.~ (1606-83), which is still in use. The 1762 commentary of Feng Hao ~m (1719-1801) remains the most widely used of classical commentaries. After Zhu Heling, however, new commentaries and critical interpretations have appeared with some regularity up to the present day.2 1 Daoyuan's and Qian Longti's commentaries have been partially preserved in subsequent Qing commentaries, especially in Zhu Heling. 2 The following Chinese commentaries to Li Shangyin's poetry will be used. Liu Xuekai I'J~jl1f and Yu Shucheng ~$~, eds., Li Shangyin shige jijie ~f€ij~iM'~~IMtJ (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1988) (hereafter jj). This gathers all the major Qing and early modern commentaries, with the evaluative judgments of Liu and Yu. Ye Congqi ~!\~, Li Shangyin shiji shuzhu *JajIit~mifJlfi::t...


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