You were a fool, Old Man of the Moon,
to tie the knot making me an imperial concubine.
Still. . .such unspeakable delights that first night!
To what shall I compare it?
Sunlight gently sporting with the do-mi flower?
A peony unfolding to a long-awaited shower?
An apple blossom awakened to love on a spring night?
Or petals on a spring bough softly smiling
as the winter breeze turns away from the plum trees?
Ah, those rainbow dresses rustling in the wind,
those feather-coats dancing, glistening under the moon,
all in harmony with the music and song!
Mattresses stuffed with kingfisher down, exhaling perfume of musk,
jewels at my waist flashing with moonlight!
Only a few drops of rain: The peony swayed
in the Pavilion of Perfume.
Then the pure lute notes in the Green Hall,
the wailing flutes in the Red Floor Room,
each melody more intoxicating than the last,
more searing, more shattering to the mind!
Magnificent eyebrows beside a dragon figure:
What a beautiful couple we were!
The flower thanked Heaven for his grace;
willingly she accepted the name of Beauty.
Day in, day out, I was close to my shining Prince,
waited on him in the morning, served him in the afternoon.
The Moon-viewing Pavilion: nothing but tender embraces.
The Royal Palace: nothing but laughter, caresses in the snow.
My cheeks needed no potions to entrance:
Kings would give kingdoms, generals their castles.
Musicians would play "Night Stroll" in the Imperial Garden"
or "Palace Flower" on the Spring Approach Terrace
while I slept in my glory,
the imperial colors blazing under the moon.
And oh, within the screens, his awesome majesty shone
and every moment was bliss.
Gold coins by the thousands
would not buy a spring dream by his side.
Now I wander in cinnamon walls
through the night's five watches, gradually despairing.
In night rain at the Moon-waiting Pavilion I pace,
toss through the dark hours on the Cool Wind Terrace.
Copper-cold are the inner rooms,
smashed the phoenix mirror,
shredded the bonds of love.
I wander in a dull dream,
my mind is lost.
Tonight the wind is cold, rain thuds
on the banana leaves as the hours crawl.
A firefly flickers on the wall.
The screens are dew-soaked, the lights dim.
The clock goes full circle but my eyes never close;
the weight of solitude falls, crushes my heart.
What words will ever describe this?
In one night a million memories invade my brain.
Soon the sun will leave my window.
When will it end, this perfume-and-powder life?
What if he comes again?
Will I still be beautiful?
Vietnamese; trans. Nguyen Ngoc Bich
Nguyen Gia Thieu, Vietnamese, trans. Nguyen Ngoc Bich, A Thousand Years of Vietnames Poetry, The Asia Society, 1975, Alfred A. Knopf.