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李商隱 嫦娥 translation: Chang’e, by Li Shangyin


This is a translation and annotation of the poem 嫦娥 (Cháng’é, sometimes written as 常娥), by the Tang dynasty poet 李商隱 (Li Shangyin). The poem is #303 in the collection 300 Tang Poems, and is also known by its first line: 雲母屏風燭影深 (Yúnmǔ Píngfēng Zhú Yǐng Shēn).

 

Where is Chang'e?

嫦娥
Cháng’é
[Chang] [E]
Chang’e

 

雲母屏風燭影深,
Yúnmǔ píngfēng zhú yǐng shēn,
[mica][] [screen][] [candle] [shadow] [dark]
On a mica screen, a candle casts dark shapes;

長河漸落曉星沈。
chánghé jiàn luò xiǎo xīng chén.
[long] [river] [gradual] [descend] [morning] [star] [lower]
the Milky Way slowly descends, the Morning Star is low.

嫦娥應悔偷靈藥,
Cháng’é yīng huǐ tōu líng yào,
[Chang] [E] [probably] [regret] [stealing] [soul] [medicine]
Chang’e must regret stealing the elixir of life;

碧海青天夜夜心。
bìhǎi qīngtiān yè yè xīn.
[jade] [sea] [blue] [sky] [night] [night] [heart]
blue sea and blue sky, night after night in her heart.

 

If you notice a mistake or disagree with the translation, please comment below to improve this resource.

 

Notes

嫦娥 (Chang’e) is the Chinese Moon deity. In legend, she steals the elixir of life and flies to the Moon.

Mica is a mineral that forms thin, glittering flakes.

長河 is 银河 (the Milky Way), and 曉星 is 启明星 – Venus, or the Morning Star.

碧海青天 is an idiom, literally “jade sea blue sky”, that refers to colour of the sea and sky merging into one endless void. It describes extreme loneliness, particularly of a widow. Considering that, a more elaborate translation of the fourth line might be “night after night, she bitterly faces the endless blue seas and skies alone”.


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