Tang quatrains 怨情 Yuan qing Resentment / Sentiments of Lament 李白 Li Bai: lyrics, pinyin, English translation and poem analysis. Idiom and origin of qin shou e mei 螓首蛾眉. How does an ancient Chinese beauty’s head look like? Limp Bizkit – Behind Blue Eyes lyrics

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Yuan4 qing2
Resentment / Sentiments of Lament
Li Bai

Mei3 ren2 juan3 zhu1 lian2
The beautiful lady curled up the beaded curtain.

shen1 zuo4 cu4 e2 mei2
Sitting deeply (in thought), she twisted her long and slender eye brows (in distress). (Note 1)

dan4 jian4 lei4 hen2 shi1
I merely saw the tear stains wet (her beautiful face).

bu4 zhi1 xin1 hen4 shui2
There is no idea in her heart toward whom she bore resentment?

Note 1: The allusion of 蛾眉 (e2 mei2) comes from the Book of Odes (詩經 Shi Jing). In “碩人 Shuo Ren” of ” 衛風 Wei Feng” (the Ode from Wei) chapter 《詩經·衛風·碩人》, a beautiful lady was described as:“螓首蛾眉,巧笑倩兮,美目盼兮。”

qin2 shou3 e2 mei2, qiao3 xiao4 qian4 xi1, mei3 mu4 pan4 xi1.

Her forehead is cicada-like and her eyebrows are like (the antenna of) the silkworm moth. Ah, how winsome her sophisticated smiles; ah, how well defined the black and white (of her eyes), her lovely eyes! (Remember traditional Chinese people’s eye color was black, no contact lenses at that time.)

螓 qin2 is one kind of cicada. The head of qin2 ( 螓首 qin2 shou3) is said to have broad square forehead. 蛾 E2 is a moth, the antenna of moth (蛾眉 E2 mei2) is slender and elegant. In this chapter of Shi Jing, 螓首蛾眉 — broad forehead and curved, elegant eye brows — is used to describe the lady who is beautiful with pretty delicate facial feature.


Poem analysis:

This is a mystery poem, a puzzle for us to figure out.

The first clue we got is there is a beauty who is sad and miserable. Through Li Bai’s vivid presentation, we can sense her emotion and resentment from the description — the stressed eye brow shape and the tears on the pretty cheeks.

The first line says that she curled up the beaded curtain. Why she curled up the curtain? You can say, that the weather is probably too hot, so she needs some fresh air? If you are a beauty living in Alabama or Texas, then I can understand your longing for some cool breeze, however, this is not the case here. This lady of rich, why did I say she’s rich? We know it from the curtain she has — beaded curtain; a common average family probably don’t have a beaded curtain, right? So, the story goes like this:

Once there was a rich pretty girl, she was very sad for she was looking for someone to come, but whoever he or she was, did not show up. Thus, she raised the curtain, looking and looking. Seeing no sign of that person, then, she sat back on her chair or sofa, and knotted her pretty two brows in such a tight shape like when you are doing a Chinese test on character dictation, and the teacher pronounced the word, you know that you practiced that word last night thousand times, but today you just could not remember it at all and you think and think of the word. Think and think, when you think and think, your eye brows definitely won’t be in the shape of relaxing and smile up shape, it should be in a frown and look distressed like the lady’s in the poem.

螓首蛾眉(see note 1) is the ancient Chinese standard of female facial beauty. A female is considered as pretty if she has a broad square head like a cicada and narrow and slight curved eye brows like the antenna of a moth.

The head of a cicada, like this

plus, the antenna of a moth

equal to

The third line clearly tells us that the lady cried, for the marks of tears are so vivid, they can be seen from so far away. She must have cried a lot then. Why was she that sad? Toward whom she bore her resentment? The poet did not know. What do you think, readers? It is possible that she was looking forward to seeing a delayed delivered race car? Not likely, unless she is crazy for sports cars. Also the word 谁 shei2 clearly told us that it is a person. So, who that person might be? A tea party playmate? If she is little – 5 or 6, then it might be possible, but, she is not. So, it must be someone older, a someone who made her very sad did not show up. Who could that person be? A husband who has been long gone and never returned or a lover that dumped her cruelly? What is your answer to this mystery poem?

Translated by Shu

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