I see that it has been almost four years since I last dined with Meng Haoran at Zhang Mingfu’s. Though it is now only November, this will be the fifth winter since we dined. A warm stove, fragrant ash, a cold feast on a cold evening, a glass or two too much of wine among friends, one last verse to share, her tender melody puts one to sleep til dawn.
Surprise, it is not winter but spring. In China, one says,
“A timely snow promises a good harvest.” 瑞雪兆丰年
A lucky first snow a full foot deep,
Idling away the evening, a half an hour more.
Mats aligned, we wine companions ask,
Trim the wick-length to a verse’s measure.
Warmed by the stove’s fragrant ashes,
Her delicate fingers pluck the lute strings clearly,
And drunk at last, I feel the lure of sleep,
Fast asleep, until the cock’s cry.
瑞 雪 初 盈 尺
閑 霄 始 半 更
列 筵 邀 酒 伴
刻 燭 限 詩 成
香 灰 金 爐 暖
嬌 絃 玉 指 清
醉 來 方 欲 臥
不 覺 曉 雞 鳴
Hánshí Zhāng Míng fǔ zhái yàn
ruìxuě chū yíng chǐ
xián xiāo shǐ bàn gèng
liè yán yāo jiǔ bàn
kè zhú xiàn shī chéng
xiānghuī jīn lú nuǎn
jiāo xián yù zhǐ qīng
zuì lái fāng yù wò
bù jué xiǎo jī míng
Notes on Translation
Hánshí, Cold Food, refers to Qingming a traditional Chinese festival that takes place in early April. In 732, Tang Emperor Xuanzong proclaimed that respect for one’s ancestors could only be made formally at their graves on the first day of the Qingming solar period.
Ruìxuě can be translated as an auspicious or lucky snow. Auspicious because of the Chinese proverb that says snow in Spring promises a good harvest (瑞雪兆丰年).