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An ancient story of separation, longing and loss: "Changgan Memories" reviewed

In an epic poem that marks the passage of time with the changing of the seasons,

Li Bai, the celebrated Chinese poet, describes the coming together of a young teenage couple amidst the great bucolic splendor of historic Changgan County.

In this ancient poem, “Memories of Changgan,” Li Bai speaks through the voice of a

beautiful young woman, longing for her distant lover. In a brilliant description of

heartbreaking adolescent emotion, writes,

When my first hair began to cover my head,

I picked up and played with flowers at the door.

Then you came riding on a bamboo horse*.

You circled the path; playing with green plums.

We lived together, here in Changgan.

Two small children without even a misgiving.

Then, when I was fourteen years old, I became your wife.

I was so shy that my face remained closed.

But I bowed my head before the shadowed wall,

and I called you a thousand times, but I never came back, not even once.

At fifteen I started to raise my eyebrows, and I wanted to be with you

like dust with ashes.

However, you always kept your huge pillar of faith **.

I didn’t have to go up any hill looking for you.

But when I was sixteen you went far, far away…

to Yandui in the Qutong Gorge.

You shouldn’t have risked the dangerous floods that come in May.

And now, while the sad monkeys cry in the sky, my step has left a mark before the door.

And little by little the green grass has grown.

The moss is too deep to push it.

And as the leaves fall in the first autumn winds; in August the butterflies are yellow.

A pair of them flies over the grass in the western garden. I feel like they are hurting my heart.

My face now turns sad, red and old.

When you go down the river, send a letter to your house.

We will go to meet no matter how far.

I’ll go find you in Changfengsha.

A contemporary reading of events

In a bittersweet story of a young girl’s adolescence, this poem demonstrates the great ability of poets to describe the kind of deep, genuine emotion that can run right to the bone.

Brimming with candid and playful imagery and filled with rugged rustic scenes, its true value may lie in the human drama that can, like the woman in the poem, encourage us to question the foundations on which our very existence is built.

A massive pillar of faith

In a story that recalls the spiritual dimensions of a young woman’s first love, we find a girl awakened by the opening of her heart and soul. Tragically though, this wonderful feeling soon begins to fade.

Overwhelmed by an emptiness that threatens to take over her soul, she searches forward. But the longing for her is followed by pain; a tragic and painful loss.

However, in the end she keeps calling. But only the poet knows if her true love will ever return.

And now the sad monkeys cry

In a scene where monkeys are said to cry in the sky, the young woman is immersed in her desperate longing and pain. She screams, but no one can really hear her.

And little by little the green grass continues to grow. But the moss is now too deep to push it.

My face turns sad, red and old

In a painful state of sadness, the young woman must face a series of emotions for which she has unfortunately not been prepared. Faced with the prospect of a life of solitude, racing thoughts and endless musings begin to disturb her mind. And tragically, they begin to take their toll.

The sad mourning woman cries: “As the leaves fall in the first autumn winds; in August the butterflies are yellow… I feel they are hurting my heart.”

When you come to the river send a letter to your house

However, in a show of hope, she looks within. Hoping to find a dream that will rekindle her unwavering faith, she says, “When you get to the river, send a letter home. We’ll meet no matter how far it is.”

I will come to see you in Changfengsha.”

a foregone conclusion

However, the ultimate fate of our lovely young lady is certainly something we must question.

Will her heroic husband return?

Is she destined to live alone?

Or will it get lost in a sea of ​​bitterness, or like the beautiful butterflies, will it learn to fly little by little, up?

….. Because only she and the poet will really get to know.

Footnotes:

* a bamboo horse is a bamboo cane used as a toy horse

** a massive pillar of faith is a term from a traditional Chinese story. In this story, a man managed to meet his lover by a bridge column. When the river waters rose, he continued clinging to the pillar waiting for his return. However, he ultimately drowned while waiting.

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