Have you ever wondered if you have a soulmate? Someone you're attracted to, someone with whom you have a connection and someone you can bond with.
Today marks Qixi Festival, the only Chinese festival devoted to love. In this episode of Mastering Chinese Poetry, we take a look at a classic love poem by Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Li Shangyin.
In style and structure, some of Tang Dynasty poet Li Shangyin's untitled works gleam with sadness and sentimentality. Love is hard to put into words, but Li knew his way around the intricate description of love that one feels but cannot express.
As last night twinkle stars, as last night blows the breeze,
West of the painted bower, east of Cassia Hall.
Having no wings I can't fly to you as I please;
(Translated by Xu Yuanchong)
zuó yè xīng chén zuó yè fēng
huà lóu xī pàn guì táng dōng
The first two sentences are about a happy get-together the previous night, giving a sense of time and place. The twinkling stars and gentle breeze at nightfall, amid a warm, quiet and romantic atmosphere.
"West of the painted bower, east of Cassia Hall." By not revealing the exact location, the poet heightens the atmosphere. It was the right moment at a beautiful place, leaving the poet with an enduring and magical sensation.
shēn wú cǎi fèng shuāng fēi yì
xīn yǒu líng xī yī diǎn tōng
The following two sentences are a perfect couplet, expressing the quiet desperation of lovesickness when they are apart.
"Having no wings I can't fly to you as I please," shows the sorrow the poet suffered at being apart from his loved one. While "Our hearts at one, your ears can hear my inner call," highlights the strong bond between them that they can still feel connected, despite the distance from each other.
The mixed feelings of grief and joy become one by contrast - there is sweetness in pain; there is hope in loneliness. In the poem, subtle and complex mental activities between lovers are put under the microscope. By extension, two people sharing a close bond can also refer to friendship.
After all, a happy and healthy relationship can bring out the best in people. And the common pursuit of a perfect fit is always being able to understand each other with a simple expression in the eyes rather than a lengthy conversation.
One of the reasons these lines are still quoted today is that the poem delivers messages that are linked to the notion of "soulmate" in the West. The Greek philosopher Plato wrote about love in his work, the Symposium, love is simply the name for the desire and pursuit of the whole.
You may search for your soulmate, but you may not find the person. If you're lucky enough to find your soulmate, then cherish your blessings and happy Chinese Valentine's Day!