The Golden Valley near Lyoung, was where Emperor Wu’s wealthy offical, Shi Chong had his luxurious villa in the midst of “clear springs and verdant woods”. Life is impermanent, and political disaster descended upon Shi Chong’s paradise. Green Pearl, his favorite concubine, threw herself from a tower.
Du Mu wrote this quatrain 500 years later.
The Garden of the Golden Valley
A. C. Graham has given us the sense of Du Mu’s poem set in paradise – a tragic death, love lost, time passing, and beauty fading into dust. I repeat his words here with a few changes:
Scattered pomp has turned to scented dust
Streaming waters know no care, grass spreads and claims spring as its own
At sunset, an East Wind carries the sound of crying birds
Petals on the ground are her likeness still, beneath the tower where she fell
Original translation by A. C. Graham
Others have given different interpretations, suggesting that it is glory that fades, or prosperity that does not last, or sweet love too soon turned to dust.
The Chinese characters 繁华 suggest a sense of bustling prosperity and Shi Chong was certainly one of the most prosperous men of his time who took pleasure in displaying his wealth to others. This in time is scattered 散 like fragrant dust, 香尘. Metaphors make for powerful images. The character 香 may be translated as a joss stick, and 尘 as dust. So we have the image of something sweet and beautiful now become perfumed ashes.
Life continues on.
The rivers flow to the sea, the grasses reclaim what was once a garden. At twilight 日暮 an East Wind 东风 blows. The symbolism of the East Wind is not lost on Du Mu. It is the harbinger of spring, but it is also the idea of something that is perfect in all aspects but for one thing. Du Mu’s perfect garden was lost because of his political association and the enemies he made along the way.
On his way to execution, Shi Chong remarked that it was his wealth others sought, not his love of Green Pearl. He was then asked, if knowing this, why had he not given away his wealth?
The most powerful metaphor remains, the beautiful Green Pearl lying beneath the tower wall, like the fallen petals of a flower 落花.