Chang’an’s broad avenues link up with narrow lanes,
There black oxen and white horses, coaches of fragrant woods,
Jade-fit palanquins go left and right, past the mansions of lords,
Gold riding whips in a long train move toward barons’ homes.
Dragons bite jeweled canopies, catching the morning sun,
The phoenix disgorges dangling fringe, draped with evening’s red clouds.
A hundred yards of gossamer strands strain to enwrap the trees,
While a single graceful flock of birds join their cries among flowers.
Cries among flowers, playful butterflies, by the palace’s thousand gates,
Emerald trees, silver terraces, in a thousand different colors.
Double-decked passage ways, intertwined windows make the union of lovers,
Paired tower gates, rising layers of tiles sweeping as phoenix wings.
The Liang clan’s mural tower rises into the skies,
The Emperor of Han’s golden columns jut straight beyond the clouds.
But those you gaze on before great buildings are those you do not know,
And those you meet upon the paths, no acquaintance of yours.
Tell me of her who plays the pipes off into purple mists —
She has spent her years of beauty studying dancing.
If we could become the sole fish, why would we flee from death?
Could we but be the mandarin ducks, no yearnings to be immortals.
The sole fish, the mandarin ducks; they are truly worth of our yearning —
They come and go in pairs, can’t you see them now?
Most I hate that the single phoenix woven in the top of the drapery;
Most I love the swallow pair fixed on the curtained door.
Pairs of swallows fly in their pairs around the painted beams,
There, gauze hangings, the kingfisher quilt, scent of tumeric.
Then one by one, hairdos like clouds, cicada-wing curls hanging,
Eyebrows slender like new moons above the tawny oils
Tawny with oil, white with powder, they step from coaches,
Charms within, loveliness within, hearts not fixed on one.
Bewitching boys on jeweled horses with ironblack spots,
And courtesans, pins of coiling dragons, golden legs bent under.
In the office of the Censorate the crows cry by night,
By the Constabulary gate the sparrows go to roost.
Mightily rising Vermillion Walls look down on roads like jade,
In the distance, azure carriages sink behind gold-fasten bastions.
Slings are clasped, falcons flown north of Duling,
Lots drawn for killing by sworn companions west of the Wei.
Greeting each other the bravos with lotus-hilted swords,
Spending nights together on peach and plum roads, the houses of singing girls.
At sunset in the singing girls’ houses are skirts of purple gauze,
And a verse of clear singing comes swelling from their mouths.
In the northern halls night after night, people move as the moon,
On southern paths at every dawn, riders move as the clouds.
Southward paths and northern halls link through the Northern Quarter,
Then great crossroads and wide highways rein in the Markets.
Plaint willows and green ash hang brushing the earth,
Sweet air and red dust rise darkening the skies.
Royal heralds of the House of Han come, a thousand outriders,
Kingfisher colored liquors in parrot shaped goblets.
Blouses of gauze and jeweled sashes are taken off for you,
The songs of Yan, the dances of Wu for you performed.
But there are others bold and splendid called “minister” and “general,”
The day turns, the heavens roll, and neither will yield to the other.
Haughty spirits ever willing to push aside a [morally upright] Guanfu,
A hold on power which cannot give in the least to a Minister Xiao.
Haughty spirits, hold on power, the stuff of ruthless heroes.
Blue Dragon and Purple Swallow, great steeds in the spring wind.
They said themselves their songs and dances would last a thousand years,
And claimed a pride and extravagance beyond the Great Lords.
But the glory of each thing in its season was not to wait on them,
Mulberry fields and green oceans interchange in an instant.
Where once were the golden stairs, the halls of white marble,
We now see only the green pines remaining.
Silent there in the emptiness the dwelling of Yang Xiong,
Year after year, every year, his whole bed covered with books.
Alone are the cassia flowers, blooming on South Mountain,
They fly back and forth, fly into his sleeves.