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Live and die in lyrics – the life of a romantic Chinese poet 1000 years ago – 柳永

Posted by Grace Feng on March 15, 2012

The life of a Chinese poet in Song dynasty - 柳永Today I want to tell you the story of a Chinese poet 柳永Liǔ Yǒng (987—1053), who had been a well known Chinese romantic poet in Song dynasty that produced lots of poems and lyrics one thousand years ago. You’ll be able to listen and watch the beautiful song of his most famous lyrics in the bottom of this post. But first of all, let’s rewind back 1000 years and walk into 柳永’s life…

Liu Yong was born to a well established family that worked for emperors generation after generation. He was the seventh child in his family. His talent of writing Chinese poems and lyrics (the classic lyrics is called “词 cí “) was outstanding since he was a little kid. The lyrics he wrote were composed with Song Dynasty music and got very popular at that time.

However he was not that lucky at 科举考试 kē jǔ kǎo shì (exam). The exam here stands for the kind of test that emperors used to choose talented people to work for them. Almost all educated Chinese males went for the exams at those years. The “exam” seemed to be the only way to get into government to gain the future of fortune and fame.

Guess what you do during the exam? Writing articles! The one that wrote the most meaningful and promising article will become a 状元 zhuàng yuán (Chinese most talented). The concept is the same as the show of American Idol, but 状元 will get the opportunity to work at a high position for the emperor and marry 公主 gōngzhǔ (the princess) if 公主 agreed. See? How big the reward could be!

Well, of course Liu Yong was not that lucky. He was too cocky to buckle down and prepare for his exam. He attended the exam year after year from a young man to a 51 year old. Finally at that age he passed at a low level and got a low position in the government.

That was not the only mischief he had in his life. He lost his beloved wife to miscarriage in the early years. His wife recorded lots of his lyrics and poems through handwriting and kept them in her drawer. He didn’t find that out until his wife died. He was heartbroken. Since then he went in and out of all kinds of entertainment places and spent lots of time in the creation of lyrics and music. He traveled lots of places too. Later on, he got to know some famous prostitutes and they admired and loved him. The top prostitutes at that time were kind of socialites. Lots of them were not only beautiful, but also well educated and talented. That’s why there were quite a few everlasting classic poet & prostitute love stories in Chinese history.

At age of 66, Liu Yong died in poverty. His prostitute lovers gathered money to arrange his funeral.

He might have lots of regrets at his death bed. But there’s one thing that he could not realize at that time is that his 词 could be handed down through more than one thousand years and even today he still gets lots of fans. I am proudly one of them. :-)

The following is one of his most famous 词 and my favorite: “雨霖铃 yǔ lín líng”. Hope you like it …

 

雨霖铃

 柳永

 

寒蝉凄切,对长亭晚,骤雨初歇。都(dū)门帐饮无绪,留恋处、兰舟催发。执手相看泪眼,竟

无语凝噎。念去去,千里烟波,暮霭沉沉楚天阔。

 

多情自古伤离别,更那(nǎ)堪,冷落清秋节!今宵酒醒何处?杨柳岸、晓风残月。此去经

年,应是良辰好景虚设。便纵有千种风情,更与何人说。

 

[pinyin version]

yǔ lín líng

Liǔ Yǒng

hánchán qīqiè, duì cháng tíng wǎn, zhòuyǔ chū xiē。 dū mén zhàng yǐn wú xù, liúliàn chǔ、 lánzhōu cuī fā。 zhí shǒuxiàng kàn lèi yǎn, jìng wúyǔ níng yē。 niàn qù qù, qiānlǐ yānbō, mù’ǎi chénchén chǔ tiān kuò。

duō qíng zìgǔ shāng líbié, gèng nǎ kān, lěngluò qīng qiū jié! jīn xiāo jiǔxǐng héchù? yángliǔ àn、 xiǎo fēng cán yuè。 cǐ qù jīng nián, yīng shì liáng chén hǎo jǐng xū shè。 biàn zòng yǒu qiān zhǒng fēngqíng, gèng yǔ hérén shuō。

 

[English translation]

Farewell
—To the Tune of Yulinling
By Liu Yong

A miserable cicada is trilling in the cold,
Over the wayside pavilion’s darkening form
Emerging form the wash of a sudden storm.
In a tavern by a city gate
Gloomy over a cup,
I hesitate,
While the departing boat is calling,
Hand in hand, we are lingering
In each other’s tearful eyes,
At a loss for words, even for sobs and sighs.
Ahead, a misty expanse of waves lies
Beneath the pressing evening haze
Spanned by the vast Southern Skies.

A sentimental soul at farewell
Is always stricken by dismay.
How can he stand the travel
On such a bleak autumn day!
—Where will I find myself, soon
After the night drunkenness is gone?
With a setting moon,
Chilled in the breeze of dawn,
On the banks weeping willows, forlorn.
Any happy moments there may be,
In years of loneliness, of sorrow,
Are not moments meant for me;
Even though
Thousands of tender feelings there
Might in me overflow,
With whom could I share?

Now you can enjoy the song for this 词:

 

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Practice your Chinese speaking with a ten-line Chinese contemporary poem 偶然
One of the best poems from 北岛 - 回答 [The Answer] (Intermediate)

 

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3 Responses to “Live and die in lyrics – the life of a romantic Chinese poet 1000 years ago – 柳永”

  1. nothing

    Valentin Nosek:

    03-24-2013 2:26 pm

    very nice article

    Reply

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