Wednesday, January 3

Reading of a Late Tang Poem

A Japanese prose interpretation of Li Shangyin’s “The Inlaid Harp” [Jin se], by Takahashi Kazumi.

    Now, here is a brocade-patterned harp that lost he who was meant to play it and lies abandoned. It is said that long ago, Fu Xi once destroyed a fifty-string harp because its sound was so sad, and strangely enough this inlaid harp has fifty strings as well. Along each of these many strings, and the frets that support them, lie the memories of my glorious youth. Though these strings may break, they cannot perish, these memories of love.
    Long ago, it’s said that Zhuangzi dreamed he had become a butterfly, such was the freedom he felt that, when he had awakened, he did not know whether he or the butterfly was the dream. Those dreamlike days of love, even now when I must awaken from them, make me rather doubt the truth of my life now, left behind alone. So too, it is said that long ago the Emperor Wang, even after his flesh had rotted away, consigned his vernal thoughts to the cuckoo. The obsessions of love in this way remained behind as the voice of a bird weeping day and night.
    I think of long ago. When you plucked upon this brocade-patterned harp, I was a keen audience for its sounds. When, playing, your thoughts traveled beyond the seas, I immediately thought of the ocean glimmering under the bright moon; when your heart was in the mountains, I knew at once that the music was the warm sunlight on Jade Mountain. But now, even in the blue sea that comes to mind this moonlit night, your image only makes me drip tears like mermaids’ pearls, and when I chase you in my daydreams, like Zi Yu you turn to smoke before we can embrace.
    But I wonder: my despair, these thoughts of mine so dim and indistinct, have they only become this way now in my memory? No. For, these things now so difficult to pin down were no different long ago; already in that time our reality was swathed in haze.


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