The Song of Everlasting Sorrow

Evan Mantyk, Contributing Editor

Shen Yun’s 2023 piece The Tang Emperor and Lady Yang tells the historic tale of Tang Emperor Xuanzong (685-762) and his famous concubine Yang Guifei, who is regarded as one of the Four Great Beauties of Chinese history. The moving story was also famously the subject of Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi’s (772-846) beautiful poem, translated in English below.

The Emperor of China sought 
The greatest beauty in the land.
So long and for so many years
He searched, but none fell in his hands.
 
Meanwhile within the House of Yang,
There was a girl who came of age.
Hid from the world in women’s quarters,
She’d never walked the public’s stage.
 
Her heavenly beauty and manner were
Too hard for others to ignore.
One day, she’s chosen to go through
The Emperor’s own palace door.
 
A single smile across her face
Charmed endlessly and would beguile. 
Six palaces of powdered faces
Paled in comparison to her smile.
 
One cold spring day, he honored her
With bathing at the Flower Pond.
The hot spring water flowing smooth;
Her fair white skin it washed upon.  
 
The palace maidens helped her leave,
For she was delicate and tired.
And at this moment, which he watched,
His favor she had now acquired.
 
With flowing strands and blossom face
And golden jewelry in her hair,
She spent Spring nights in his warm tent,
Hibiscus patterns on their lair.  
 
They slept till sunrise long had passed;
O how those Spring nights were too short! 
From this point on the Emperor
Did not attend his morning court.
 
She spent her days attending him
At banquets till she had no time.
They went on outings in the Spring
And every night in bed would climb. 
 
Although there were three thousand beauties
Living within the palace walls,
His love for those three thousand ladies
All on her now solely falls. 
 
Made-up within her golden chamber,
She was a charm for him to bring
To the Jade Mansion banquet where
She got drunk on wine and Spring.
 
Her brothers and her sisters were
All granted land imperially,
Producing new and glowing glory,
Shining on her family. 
 
Then parents everywhere began 
To change what they had always thought:
No longer did they want a baby
Boy; a girl is what they sought. 
 
Li Palace seemed to soar up through
The clouds into the heavens’ blue;
Immortals’ music floated on 
The winds and every place imbued.
 
Slow song and dance both blended with
The bamboo instruments’ silk strings.
The Emperor could watch all day 
And never tired of these things. 
 
The war drums far away in Yuyang
Began to beat and shake the ground.
The Song of Rainbow Skirts and Feathered
Robes had lost its charming sound. 
 
Then smoke and ash descended on 
The palace’s nine-story towers
And thousands of southwestern horsemen 
Headed there with martial powers. 
 
His jade embellished carriage fled
And trembled onward till it stopped.
The Capital now far away;
Its West Gate in the background dropped. 
 
His armies wouldn’t go on, so he
Had no choice but obey their will.
His lady’s delicate eyebrows furled
As by the horses she was killed.
 
Her ornate headdress hit the ground
But no one dared to pick it up.
Then fell the golden sparrow hairpin,
And jade hair clasp—a change abrupt.
 
The Emperor now hid his face,
He had no way to rescue her.
When looking back he saw a stream
Of blood and tears together blur.
 
The yellow dust rose in the air
Upon a bleak and chilly breeze.
On winding wooden paths and clouds
Through Mount Jian’s pass, they felt unease. 
 
Not many people traveled on 
The road that runs by Mount Emei.
The banners lost their luster as
The sun went down to close the day.
 
The rivers blue, the mountains green
While in the Kingdom of the Shu.
Yet all this High Lord thought about
Each day and night was “I miss you.”
 
Inside his makeshift palace he
Would moon-gaze with a broken heart.
He heard the chimes one stormy night—
A sound that tore his life apart.
 
The uprising over, he was given
Back the Dragon Chariot.
The journey home stopped where they’d been;
He could not leave nor hurry it.
 
They stood in mud while at the foot
Of Mawei Slope, where she had died. 
No jade-like face, only the barren 
Grave in which her body lied.
 
The Emperor and ministers
Shed tears that soaked each robe and face.
Then gazed east to the Capital,
And let their horses set the pace. 
 
They found the ponds and gardens
Much the same as when they left:
Still lotus flowers in the pond,
Of palace willows not bereft.
 
The lotuses were like her face.
The willows: eyebrows, just the same.
When he looked out and saw them there
How could he hold back tears that came?
 
Though Spring's warm breeze had brought peach trees
And pink plum blossoms into bloom,
In Autumn, rains had brought the leaves
Of parasol trees down to their doom.
 
West Palace and South Palace were
Overgrown in Autumn grass,
And no one swept away red fallen
Leaves that on the steps amassed.
 
The Pear Garden opera performers 
Had new white hair upon their heads.
The eunuchs and the palace maids
Look like old folks confined to beds.
 
Within the palace, fireflies filled
The air that held his quiet thoughts.
The lonely lamp ran out of wick
And yet no sleep to him was brought.
 
The bells and drums rang out to start
Another night that dragged on and on.
The Milky Way shined brightly as
He yearned for day to finally dawn.
 
The mandarin duck roof tiles froze
Becoming heavy beneath the frost.
The jade quilt still felt cold, for who
Would share it with him? He felt lost. 
 
One drawn out year had gone by since 
The living and the dead had parted.
Her soul had made no visit to 
Him in the dreams that sleep imparted. 
 
A Taoist priest who’d come from Linqiong 
Visited the Capital.
His sincere heart could summon souls—
For meetings that were spiritual.
 
So moved was he by what he saw—
The Emperor in such despair—
That he agreed to try his best
To find her soul and bring it there.
 
He flew into the sky and rode
On air like flitting, flashing lightning,
Ascending Heaven, diving deep
In Earth, in search of any sighting.
 
He searched the blue expanse above,
Unearthly Yellow Springs below,
But through the boundless universe
Just where she was, he did not know.
 
Just then he heard about a mountain
Of immortals on the sea.
The mountain was surrounded by
A misty air of mystery.
 
And there a high pavilion perched 
Exquisitely amidst five clouds.
Inside it lived immortal beauties—
A charming, graceful female crowd.
 
Among them was a person by
The name of Lady Ever True
Of snow-white skin and lovely face,
Quite like the description that he knew. 
 
He knocked upon the west jade door
Of the watchtower made of gold.
He asked a girl named Little Jade
To take his message to be told.
 
She heard that the Imperial Envoy
Sent by the Son of Heaven came;
Inside her splendid canopy
The shock had dowsed her dreaming’s flame. 
 
She dressed herself and made her bed
And paced around in anxious thought,
Then made her way through curtain pearls,
Past room dividers silver wrought.
 
Her hair was still disheveled from
The nap she’d just been taking there.
Descending to the hall, her flower
Crown sat crooked in her hair.
 
A breeze made her immortal’s dress
Start fluttering with flying rolls
Just like when she performed the Dance
Of Rainbow Skirts and Feathered Robes.
 
Her jade-like face showed her distraught, 
Engulfed in tears of aching pain,
Like petals on a lone pear blossom
Branch in springtime’s flowing rain.
 
She poured out feelings to the priest,
Deep thanks she gave the Emperor.
Since parting, both the voice and face
Of him had now become obscure.
 
The loving kindness that they shared 
In Bright Sun Hall had been cut short.
While here, in Penglai Palace, days
And months long passed—a fine resort.
 
She turned and looked down at the place
Where earthbound mortal lives exist.
She could not see the Capital,
Chang’an, only dust and mist.
 
All she could do was send to him 
Some tokens of her deep affection.
She gave a chest and golden hairpin
As a means of some connection. 
 
She kept one part of the hairpin
And one piece of the metal chest.
From that day on each set of pieces
Never joined with all the rest.  
 
But she sent him a message: “Keep
Your heart as firm as gold and metal;
We’ll meet again one day high up 
In Heaven or the realm that’s mortal.”
 
And when the Envoy was about
To leave, she ardently spoke out,
“Remind him of the vow we made 
And how our hearts must be devout.
 
“The seventh day, the seventh month
Within the Hall of Longevity
At midnight when no one was there
We vowed together secretly
 
“That one day we’d fly in the sky
As two birds soaring wing to wing;
That one day we’d be trees on earth
And to each other’s branches cling;
 
“That though long-lasting Heaven and
This ancient Earth must pass away,
Regret at parting ways will carry
On, forever and a day.”

 

長 恨 歌

作者:白居易

 

漢皇重色思傾國,

御宇多年求不得。

楊家有女初長成,

養在深閨人未識。

天生麗質難自棄,

一朝選在君王側。

回眸一笑百媚生,

六宮粉黛無顏色。

春寒賜浴華清池,

溫泉水滑洗凝脂。

侍兒扶起嬌無力,

始是新承恩澤時。

雲鬢花顏金步搖,

芙蓉帳暖度春宵。

春宵苦短日高起,

從此君王不早朝。

承歡侍宴無閒暇,

春從春遊夜專夜。

後宮佳麗三千人,

三千寵愛在一身。

金屋妝成嬌侍夜,

玉樓宴罷醉和春。

姊妹弟兄皆列土,

可憐光彩生門戶。

遂令天下父母心,

不重生男重生女。

驪宮高處入青雲,

仙樂風飄處處聞。

緩歌慢舞凝絲竹,

盡日君王看不足。

漁陽鼙鼓動地來,

驚破霓裳羽衣曲。

九重城闕煙塵生,

千乘萬騎西南行。

翠華搖搖行復止,

西出都門百餘里。

六軍不發無奈何,

宛轉蛾眉馬前死。

花鈿委地無人收,

翠翹金雀玉搔頭。

君王掩面救不得,

回看血淚相和流。

黃埃散漫風蕭索,

雲棧縈紆登劍閣。

峨嵋山下少人行,

旌旗無光日色薄。

蜀江水碧蜀山青,

聖主朝朝暮暮情。

行宮見月傷心色,

夜雨聞鈴腸斷聲。

天旋地轉回龍馭,

到此躊躇不能去。

馬嵬坡下泥土中,

不見玉顏空死處。

君臣相顧盡霑衣,

東望都門信馬歸。

歸來池苑皆依舊,

太液芙蓉未央柳。

芙蓉如面柳如眉,

對此如何不淚垂。

春風桃李花開日,

秋雨梧桐葉落時。

西宮南內多秋草,

落葉滿階紅不掃。

梨園子弟白髮新,

椒房阿監青娥老。

夕殿螢飛思悄然,

孤燈挑盡未成眠。

遲遲鐘鼓初長夜,

耿耿星河欲曙天。

鴛鴦瓦冷霜華重,

翡翠衾寒誰與共。

悠悠生死別經年,

魂魄不曾來入夢。

臨邛道士鴻都客,

能以精誠致魂魄。

為感君王輾轉思,

遂教方士殷勤覓。

排空馭氣奔如電,

升天入地求之遍。

上窮碧落下黃泉,

兩處茫茫皆不見。

忽聞海上有仙山,

山在虛無縹緲間。

樓閣玲瓏五雲起,

其中綽約多仙子。

中有一人字太真,

雪膚花貌參差是。

金闕西廂叩玉扃,

轉教小玉報雙成。

聞道漢家天子使,

九華帳裡夢魂驚。

攬衣推枕起徘徊,

珠箔銀屏迤邐開。

雲鬢半偏新睡覺,

花冠不整下堂來。

風吹仙袂飄飄舉,

猶似霓裳羽衣舞。

玉容寂寞淚闌干,

梨花一枝春帶雨。

含情凝睇謝君王,

一別音容兩渺茫。

昭陽殿裡恩愛絕,

蓬萊宮中日月長。

回頭下望人寰處,

不見長安見塵霧。

唯將舊物表深情,

鈿合金釵寄將去。

釵留一股合一扇,

釵擘黃金合分鈿。

但教心似金鈿堅,

天上人間會相見。

臨別殷勤重寄詞,

詞中有誓兩心知。

七月七日長生殿,

夜半無人私語時。

在天願作比翼鳥,

在地願為連理枝。

天長地久有時盡,

此恨綿綿無絕期。

 

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