Life goes on

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Burial of the Flowers - Cao Xueqin

Flowers fade and fly,
and flying fill the sky;
Their bloom departs, their perfume gone,
yet who stands pitying by?
And wandering threads of gossamer
on the summer-house are seen,
And falling catkins lightly dew-steeped
strike the embroidered screen.
A girl within the inner rooms,
I mourn that spring is done,
A veil of sorrow binds my heart,
and solace there is none.

I pass into the garden,
and I turn to use my hoe,
Treading over fallen glories
as I lightly come and go.
There are willow-sprays and flowers of elm,
and these have scent enough.
I care not if the peach and plum,
are stripped from every bough.
The peach-tree and the plum-tree too
next year may bloom again,
But next year, in the inner rooms,
tell me, shall I remain?

By the third moon new fragrant nests
shall see the light of day,
New swallows fly among the beams,
each on its thoughtless way.
Next year once more they'll seek their food
among the painted flowers,
But I may go, and beams may go,
and with them swallow bowers.
Three hundred days and sixty make
a year, and therein lurk
Daggers of wind and swords of frost
to do their cruel work.

How long will last the fair fresh flower
which bright and brighter glows?
One morning its petals float away,
but to where no-one knows.
Gay blooming buds attract the eye,
faded they're lost to sight;
Oh, let me sadly bury them
beside these steps tonight.
Alone, unseen, I seize my hoe,
with many a bitter tear;
They fall upon the naked stem
and stains of blood appear.

The night-jar now has ceased to mourn,
the dawn comes on apace,
I seize my hoe and close the gates,
leaving the burying-place;
But not until sunbeams dot the wall
does slumber soothe my care,
The cold rain pattering on the pane
as I lie shivering there.
You wonder that with flowing tears
my youthful cheek is wet;
They partly rise from angry thoughts,
and partly from regret.

Regret that spring comes suddenly;
and anger that it cannot last.
No sound to announce its approach,
or warn us when it's passed.
Last night within the garden
sad songs were faintly heard,
Sung, as I knew, by spirits,
spirits of flower and bird.
We cannot keep them here with us,
these much-loved birds and flowers,
They sing but for a season's space,
and bloom a few short hours.

If only I on a feathered wing
might soar aloft and fly,
With flower spirits I would seek
the rooms within the sky.
But high in the air
What grave is there?
No, give me an embroidered bag
within to lay their charms,
And Mother Earth, pure Mother Earth,
shall hide them in her arms.
Thus those sweet forms which spotless came
shall spotless go again,
Nor pass dirty with mud and filth
along some filthy drain.

Farewell, dear flowers, forever now,
thus buried as was best,
I have not yet divined when I
with you shall sink to rest.
I who can bury flowers like this
a laughing-stock shall be;
I cannot say in days to come
what hands shall bury me.
See how when spring begins to fail
each opening flower fades;
So too there is a time of age
and death for beautiful maids;
And when the fleeting spring is gone,
and days of beauty over,
Flowers fall, and lovely maidens die,
and both are known no more.


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