Lin Daiyu’s Elegy on Flowers
As flowers fall and petals fly across the sky,
Who pities the reds that fade and the scents that die?
Softly the gossamer floats over bowers green;
Gently the willow fluff wafts to embroidered screen.
I am grieved in my chamber to see spring depart.
O where can I pour out my sorrow-laden heart?
I step through my portal, holding in hand a hoe.
On fallen petals could I bear to come and go?
The willow threads and the elm leaves are fresh and gay;
They care not if peach and plum blossoms drift away.
Both the peach and the plum will bloom again next year,
But in my broidered chamber who will then appear?
By the third moon the swallows built their fragrant nest,
But apathetically on the beam they rest.
Next year though they may peck the buds and clay again,
Can their nest on the beam of my chamber remain?
O in the three hundred and sixty days each year,
The cutting wind and biting frost make flowers sear!
How long can their fragrant blossoms last fresh and fair?
Once when they’re blown away, they can be found nowhere.
It’s harder to find flowers fallen than in bloom;
Before the steps their grave-digger is filled with gloom.
Alone with hoe in hand, my tears secretly shed,
On their bare branches like drops of blood turn them red.
As twilight falls, the woeful cuckoos sing no more;
I come back with my hoe and close the double door.
Abed in dimly-lit chamber when night is still,
Cold rain pelts my window and I feel my quilt chill.
I wonder why I should be thrown in such a fret:
Is it for love of spring or is it for regret?
I love spring when it comes and regret when it goes;
It comes and goes as silently as water flows.
Last night from the courtyard a plaintive dirge was heard.
Was it sung by the soul of flower or of bird?
The bird’s soul or the flower’s is hard to detain;
The flowers are bashful and silent birds remain.
I long on wings to fly
With flowers to the end of the earth and the sky.
At earth’s uttermost bound,
Where can I find a sweet-scented burial mound?
Why don’t I shroud in silken bag the petals fair
And bury them in earth with which they’ll blend fore’er?
For pure they come and pure they go,
Not sinking into dirt below.
Now they are dead, I come to bury them today.
Who can divine the date when I shall pass away?
Men laugh at my folly in burying fallen flowers.
But who will bury me when come my final hours?
See spring depart and flowers wither by and by!
This is the time when beauty must grow old and die.
One day when spring is gone and beauty dead, alas!
Who will care for the fallen bloom and buried lass?
Cao Xueqin was the greatest novelist of the Qing Dynasty and this elegy is selected from his novel A Dream of Red Mansions.