Meeting Li Guinian at Jiangnan
Often we met at Prince Qi’s Palace and
Many times I heard you at Lord Cui’s home and
Just now, at Jiangnan, when the earth is its finest
When blossoms are falling, we meet again, by chance
Poetry, calligraphy, music and art all flourished in the Tang dynasty.
But then, glory and flame are fleeting. And chance plays a major part in whether we end up rich man or poor man, poet or recluse, court musician or street performer.
Du Fu was one of the Tang dynasty’s greatest poets. He was also a prominent civil servant who unfortunately found his star falling at the close of his life.
Li Guinian was a famous musician of the same time. Likewise, his fortunes, fell during the An Lushan Rebellion, and so he ended up as a street performer South of the Yangtze River, where the encounter described in the poem took place.
A literal translation of the title is At Jiangnan Meeting Li Guinian. Jiangnan also translates as South of the River, but it is also a place name. Du Fu intended both meanings.
The poem’s date
A fateful event triggered a change in fortune. This was the An Lushan Rebellion, which began in 755 and ended 8 years alter.
The poem, therefore, can be dated after this and before Du Fu’s death in 770. It would not be too far a stretch to spot the time of the meeting between poet and musician to after 765, when Du Fu and his family sailed down the Yangtze, with the intention of making their way to Luoyang, Du Fu’s birthplace.
Prince Qi and Cui Jui
Prince Qi, named in the poem, likely refers to a brother of the Tang Emperor Xuanzong. Cui Jiu likely refers to a member of the Cui clan of Qinghe, and chancellor to the emperor. I confess to confusion in the translation of Cui Jui. Jui means 9th, but I doubt that Du Fu is referring to a 9th son. Rather, it is likely Cui Jui was a prominent person in the emperor’s entourage. Exactly who is a mystery. Other Tang poets like Pei Di have referred to Cui Jui, (see A Farewell to Cui Jiu), so one suspects there is more to the passing reference.
Jiangnan (South of the River) is generally described as the to lands immediately to south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. Most translations of Du Fu’s poem use the literal English South of the River, rather than the geographic place name, Jiangnan. There is an argument either way, Jiangnan is more sonorous, South of the River has a better implied connotation. Crossing the river and south of the river might both be metaphors for a tragic but happy or sad change in one’s fortunes.
江 南 逢 李 龜 年
岐 王 宅 裡 尋 常 見
崔 九 堂 前 幾 度 聞
正 是 江 南 好 風 景
落 花 時 節 又 逢 君
Jiāngnán féng lǐ guī nián
qí wáng zhái lǐ xún chángjiàn
cuī jiǔ tángqián jǐdù wén
zhèng shì jiāngnán hǎo fēngjǐng
luòhuā shíjié yòu féng jūn
Li Guinian et moi, nous nous rencontrons
Au Palais du Prince Qi, souvent, nous nous sommes rencontrés
Chez le maître Cui, plusieurs fois, je vous ai entendu
Tout à l’heure, à Jiangnan, quand la terre est son meilleur
Quand la floraison tombe, on se retrouve, par chance
Poetry is sentimental. Li Guinian, a famous singer in the early years of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty, often sang in the noble and powerful families. Du Fu was very talented when he was young. He often went to the door of Li Longfan, the King of Qi, and Cui Di, the supervisor of the secondary school, to enjoy the singing art of Li Guinian. The first two sentences of the poem recall the contact with Li Guinian in the past and express the poet’s nostalgia for the prosperity of the early years of the Kaiyuan era; The last two sentences are about the decline of state affairs and the wandering of artists. Only four sentences summarize the vicissitudes of the times and great changes in life throughout the Kaiyuan period (note: the Kaiyuan period is 713-741 years). The language is very plain, but the connotation is infinite and full.
Li Guinian was a famous singer in the Kaiyuan period who was “a special patron”. Du Fu first met the Year of Li Gui. It was in his high spirited youth that he was in the “golden age of Kaiyuan”. Du Fu was appreciated by Li Fan, the King of Qi, and Cui Di, the secretary supervisor, for his early talent. He was able to enjoy Li Guinian’s singing in their mansion. In Du Fu’s mind, Li Guinian is closely connected with the heyday of the Kaiyuan era and his romantic teenage life. Decades later, they met again in Jiangnan. At this time, the Tang Dynasty, which had suffered eight years of An Shi Rebellion, had also turned from prosperity to decline, and their late life was also very bleak. This kind of meeting naturally triggered Du Fu’s already smoldering sense of infinite vicissitudes. This poem spans decades of vicissitudes of the times, social changes, and the description of scenery conveys the poet’s feelings about the decline of the world. The whole poem has profound charm, rich connotation, and high artistic achievements.
“It’s common to see King Qi in his mansion. Cui has heard about it several times in front of the Ninth Hall.” In those days, I often saw your performances in King Qi’s residence; I have appreciated your art many times before Cui Jiutang. Although the first two sentences are reminiscent of the past contact with Li Guinian, they reveal the deep memory of Kaiyuan’s heyday. The following words seem to be light, but the implied feelings are heavy. “King Qi”, Li Fan, the younger brother of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty and the son of Emperor Ruizong of the Tang Dynasty (Li Dan), was crowned King Qi. He was famous for his love of talent and his elegant voice. Cui Jiu, named Di, was the younger brother of Cui Shi, who often went to and from the imperial palace. He was a favorite minister of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty and served as a secretary supervisor. He is the ninth brother of the same clan, so he is called Cui Jiu. “Qiwang Mansion” and “Cui Jiutang” seem to be spoken out by faith, but in the minds of the people concerned, these two places where literary and artistic celebrities often gathered in the heyday of the Kaiyuan era, their names are enough to recall the good memories of the past. It was very common to get in touch with an art star like Li Guinian in those days, but in retrospect, it is a dream beyond our reach. The two lines of poetry in repeated singing and chanting seem to prolong the aftertaste. The sense of heaven and earth contained here needs to be combined with the following two sentences to taste.
“It is the beautiful scenery in the south of the Yangtze River, and you will meet you again when the flowers fall.” This is the beautiful scenery of late spring in the south of the Yangtze River. I didn’t expect to meet you by chance during the falling flower season. The past is no longer, the memories like dreams can not change the current helplessness. The last two sentences are filled with feelings about the decline of state affairs and the wandering of artists, summarizing the vicissitudes of the whole Kaiyuan period. In the peaceful times, the beautiful Jiangnan was the place where poets yearned for a pleasant journey. Now, when I am really in the midst of it, I am faced with withered fallen flowers and exiled artists with white heads. The “flower falling season” is not only an impromptu book event, but also a fun occasion intentionally or unintentionally. Readers who are familiar with the times and Du Fu’s life experience will definitely think of the decline of the world, the social turmoil and the decline and vagrancy of the poet, without the slightest feeling that the poet is deliberately making a metaphor. Therefore, this kind of writing seems to be perfect. The two function words, “Zhengshi” and “Youyou”, turn and fall, and even more, they contain infinite feelings between the lines.
The four lines of poetry, from the “Wen” song in front of King Qi’s house and Cui Jiutang to the heavy “Feng”, “Wen” and “Feng” in the south of Luohua River, are connected with the vicissitudes of the times and great changes in life over the past 40 years. Although there is no direct reference to the current life experience in the poem, through the poet’s recollection and sighing, it shows the shadow of the great upheaval that brought havoc to the material wealth and cultural prosperity of the Tang Dynasty, as well as the huge disaster and spiritual trauma it caused to people. It can be said that “the chaos of the world, the rise and fall of China, and the desolation and exile of each other are all in it” (Sun Zhu comments). Just as there is no set on the stage of the same old drama, the audience can imagine a vast space background and event process through the singing performance of the actors; It is also like that novels often reflect an era through a person’s fate. The successful creation of this poem shows that, for a great poet who has a high degree of artistic generalization and rich life experience, such a short style as quatrains can have a great capacity, and when expressing such rich content, it can reach the artistic realm of lifting heavy as light as possible and being unobtrusive. ▲