THE EVERLASTING REGRET
The beauty-loving monarch longed year after year
To find a beautiful lady without peer.
A maiden of the Yangs* to womanhood just grown,
In inner chambers bred, to the world was unknown.
*Yang Yu-huan (719-756) was the favourite mistress of Emperor Xuan
Zong (reigned 725-768) of the Tang Dynasty.
Endowed with natural beauty too hard to hide,
One day she stood selected for the monarch’s side.
Turning her head, she smiled so sweet and full of grace
That she outshone in six palaces the fairest face.
She bathed in glassy water of warm-fountain pool,
Which laved and smoothed her creamy skin when spring was cool.
Upborne by her attendants, she rose too faint to move,
And this was when she first received the monarch’s love.
Flowerlike face and cloudlike hair, golden-headdressed,
In lotus-flower curtain she spent the night blessed.
She slept till sun rose high, for the blessed night was short,
From then on the monarch held no longer morning court.
In revels as in feasts she shared her lord’s delight,
His companion on trips and his mistress at night.
In inner palace dwelt three thousand ladies fair;
On her alone was lavished royal love and care.
Her beauty served the night when dressed in Golden Bower
Or drunk with wine and spring at banquet in Jade Tower.
All her sisters and brothers received rank and fief
And honours showered on her household, to the grief
Of the fathers and mothers who’d rather give birth
To a fair maiden than any son on earth.
The lofty palace towered high into blue cloud,
With wind-borne music so divine the air was loud.
Seeing slow dance and hearing fluted or stringed song,
The emperor was never tired the whole day long.
But rebels** beat their war drums, making the earth quake
And “Song of Rainbow Skirt and Coat of Feathers” break.
** The revolt broke out in 755 and forced the emperor to flee from the capital.
A cloud of dust was raised o’er city walls nine-fold;
Thousands of chariots and horsemen southwestward rolled.
Imperial flags moved slowly now and halted then,
And thirty miles from Western Gate they stopped again.
Six armies would not march -- what could be done? -- with speed
Until the Lady Yang was killed before the steed.
None would pick up her hairpin fallen to the ground
Or golden bird and comb with which her head was crowned.
The monarch could not save her and hid his face in fear;
Turning his head, he saw her blood mix with his tear.
The yellow dust spread wide, the wind blew desolate;
A serpentine plank path led to cloud-capped Sword Gate.
Below the Eyebrow Mountains wayfarers were few;
In fading sunlight royal standards lost their hue.
On western waters blue and western mountains green
The monarch’s heart was daily gnawed by sorrow keen.
The moon viewed from his tent shed a soul-searing light,
The bells heard in night rain made a heart-rending sound.
Suddenly turned the tide. Returning from his flight,
The monarch could not tear himself away from the ground
Where ‘mid the clods beneath the slope he couldn’t forget
The fair-faced Lady Yang, who was unfairly slain.
He looked at ministers, with tears his robe was wet;
They rode east to the capital, but with loose rein.
Back, he found her pond and garden in the old place,
With lotus in the lake and willows by the hall.
Willow leaves like her brows and lotus like her face;
At the sight of all these, how could his tears not fall
Or when in vernal breeze were peach and plum full-blown
Or when in autumn rain parasol leaves were shed?
In western as in southern court was grass o’ergrown;
With fallen leaves unswept the marble steps turned red.
Actors, although still young, began to have hair grey;
Eunuchs and waiting maids looked old in palace deep.
Fireflies flitting the hall, mutely he pined away;
The lonely lampwick burned out; still he could not sleep.
Slowly beat drums and rang bells; night began to grow long;
Bright shone the Milky Way; daybreak seemed to come late.
The lovebird tiles grew chilly with hoar frost so strong,
And his kingfisher quilt was cold, not shared by a mate.
One long, long year the dead and the living were parted;
Her soul came not in dreams to see the brokenhearted.
A Taoist sorcerer came to the palace door,
Skilled to summon the spirit from the other shore.
Moved by the monarch’s yearning for the departed fair,
He was ordered to seek for her everywhere.
Borne on the air, like flash of lightning he flew;
In heaven and on earth he searched through and through.
Up to the azure vault and down to deepest place,
Nor above nor below could he e’er find her trace.
He learned that on the sea were fairy mountains proud
That now appeared, now disappeared amid the cloud
Of rainbow colours where rose magnificent bowers
And dwelt so many fairies as graceful as flowers.
Among them was a queen whose name was Ever True;
Her snow-white skin and sweet face might afford a clue.
Knocking at western gate of palace hall, he bade
The porter fair to inform the queen’s waiting maid.
When she heard there came the monarch’s embassy,
The queen was startled out of dreams in her canopy.
Pushing aside the pillow, she rose and got dressed,
Passing through silver screen and pearl shade to meet the guest.
Her cloudlike hair awry, not full awake at all,
Her flowery cap slanted, she came into the hall.
The wind blew up her fairy sleeves and made them float
As if she danced the “Rainbow Skirt and Feathered Coat.”
Her jade-white face crisscrossed with tears in lonely world
Like a spray of pear blossoms in spring rain impearled.
She bade him thank her lord, lovesick and brokenhearted;
They knew nothing of each other after they parted.
Love and happiness long ended within palace walls;
Days and months appeared long in the fairyland halls.
Turning her head and fixing on the earth her gaze,
She saw no capital ’mid clouds of dust and haze.
To show her love was deep, she took out keepsakes old
For him to carry back, hairpin and case of gold.
Keeping one side of the case and one wing of the pin,
She sent to her dear lord the other half of the twin.
“If our two hearts as firm as the gold should remain.
In heaven or on earth we’ll sometime meet again.”
At parting she confided to the messenger
A secret vow known only to her lord and her.
On seventh day of seventh moon when none was near,
At midnight in Long Life Hall he whispered in her ear,
“On high, we’d be two lovebirds flying wing to wing;
On earth, two trees with branches twined from spring to spring.”
The boundless sky and endless earth may pass away,
But this vow unfulfilled will be regretted for aye.