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Li Shangyin

The Sui Palace

When gaily the Emperor toured the south
Contrary to every warning,
His whole empire cut brocades,
Half for wheel-guards, half for sails.

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Jiasheng

When the Emperor sought guidance from wise men, from exiles,
He found no calmer wisdom than that of young Jia
And assigned him the foremost council-seat at midnight,
Yet asked him about gods, instead of about people.

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Willow

Boundless the leaves roused by spring,
Countless the twigs which tremble in the dawn.
Whether the willow can love or not,
Never a time when it does not dance.
Blown fluff hides white butterflies,
Drooping bands disclose the yellow oriole.
The beauty which shakes a kingdom must reach through all the body:
Who comes only to view the willow's eyebrows?

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* * *

Bite back passion. Spring now sets.
Watch little by little the night turn around.
Echoes in the house; want to go up, dare not.
A glow behind the screen; wish to go through, cannot.
It would hurt too much, the swallow on a hairpin;
Truly shame me, the phoenix on a mirror.
On the road back, sunrise over Heng-t'ang.
The blossoming of the morning-star shines farewell on the jewelled saddle.

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The East Wind Sighs

The East wind sighs, the fine rains come:
Beyond the pool of water-lilies, the noise of faint thunder.
A gold toad gnaws the lock. Open it. Burn the incense.
A tiger of jade pulls the rope. Draw from the well and escape.
Chia's daughter peeped through the screen when Han the clerk was young.
The goddess of the river left her pillow for the great Prince of Wei.
Never let your heart open with the spring flowers:
One inch of love is an inch of ashes.

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***

Where is it, the sad lyre which follows the quick flute?
Down endless lanes where the cherries flower, on a bank where the willows droop.
The lady of the East house grows old without a husband,
The white sun at high noon, the last spring month half over.
Princess Li-yang is fourteen,
In the cool of the day, after the Rain Feast, with him behind the fence, look.
...Come home, toss and turn till the fifth watch.
Two swallows in the rafters hear the long sigh.

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To One Unnamed II

A misty rain comes blowing with the wind from the east,
And wheels faintly thunder beyond Hibiscus Pool.
...Round the golden-toad lock, incense is creeping;
The jade tiger tells, on its cord, of water being drawn
A great lady once, from behind a screen, favoured a poor youth;
A fairy queen brought a bridal mat once for the ease of a prince and then vanished.
...Must human hearts blossom in spring, like all other flowers?
And of even this bright flame of love, shall there be only ashes?

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Li Shangyin
Li Shangyin