Chinese critics prefer to interpret Li Shangyin’s love poetry as allegory. Li Shangyin, is the love poet par excellence in the Chinese tradition. His poems set a trend for later Chinese love poetry. He was born into the lower aristocracy but lost his father, a low-ranking official, when he was 10 years old. Much of his love poetry has a melancholic flavour, expressing disappointment and frustration rather than joy and fulfilment.
WILLOW – Boundless the leaves roused by spring, countless the twigs which tremble in the dawn. Whether the willow can love or not, never a time when it does not dance. Blown fluff hides white butterflies, drooping bands disclose the yellow oriole. The beauty which shakes a kingdom must reach through all the body. Who comes only to view the willow’s eyebrows?
THE EAST WIND SIGHS – The east wind sighs, the fine rains come. Beyond the pool of water-lilies, the noise of faint thunder. A gold toad gnaws the lock. Open it, burn the incense. A tiger of jade pulls the rope. Draw from the well and escape. Chia’s daughter peeped through the screen when Han the clerk was young, the goddess of the River left her pillow for the great Prince of Wei. Never let your heart open with the spring flowers. One inch of love is an inch of ashes.
BITE BACK PASSION – Bite back passion. Spring now sets. Watch little by little the night turn around. Echoes in the house. Want to go up, dare not. A glow behind the screen; wish to go through, cannot. It would hurt too much, the swallow on a hairpin. Truly shame me, the phoenix on a mirror. On the road back, sunrise over Heng-t’ang. The blossoming of the morning-star shines farewell on the jewelled saddle.