Monday, April 18, 2011
An Emperor's Flower
Copyright © 2011 - Jeff Loh. All rights reserved
An Emperor’s Flower (aka Princess Flower) 帝女花
倚殿陰森奇樹雙 In the shade of the forest by the palace yielded two wondrous trees.
明珠萬顆映花黃 Flowers looked pale against a myriad of shining pearls1.
如此斷腸花燭夜 Such tragedy this wedding night is going to be,
不須侍女伴身旁 Need no maid in attendance.
The Princess further stipulated that on her wedding night, the ceremony was to be held in the imperial gardens. There the lovers took poison to escape servitude to the new regime. Like all Chinese tragic love stories, the lovers are depicted as immortals banished from Heaven for violating the heavenly law of falling in love, i.e. having carnal desires2.
The following is the translation of the Cantonese lyrics set to a popular folk song that was sung at the ill-fated wedding night scene. This is just a story loosely based on historical events. In actuality, Mukden was still the capital of the Manchus. The founding Emperor did not enter Peking. His son, the Emperor Shun Chih was 7 or 8 years when he sat on the dragon throne of China and not a middle-aged ruler as depicted in the opera. The lyrics in blue are to be sung by the Princess Consort, those in black by Princess Eternal Peace and in red to be sung together. My next translation project is a set of alternate lyrics for this popular Cantonese. It is a warning to those who do not study hard that their future is nothing short of poverty and squalor.
Falling flowers obscuring the moonlight,
Let a cup be the respects paid on the Phoenix Terrace.
In tears, the Princess Flower burns some incense,
Take my life as thanks to my parents.
Stealing a glance here, a furtive look there,
I see his tears burdened in hidden sorrow.
Half in fright,
I’m afraid that the Princess Consort would linger over the Phoenix match,
Yearning for the physical love and abandon our journey to the Yellow Springs3.
Every inch of my heart longs for us to be buried together,
Mandarin duck lovers embracing in each other’s arms.
Let us rebuild our wedding room in Hade’s Terrace,
There we can look for that bright lane of no upheaval once more.
Alas the flower lover is willing to be buried with me.
Difficult it is for the Princess Consort to drink arsenic on this night of flowers and candles4.
Catastrophe had befallen on the empire,
In boundless gratitude I give thanks to my late liege.
Kneeling together with my wife, I inquire how His imperial Highness is faring in the underworld5.
Alas, looking forward to the wedding night,
Spending a lifetime together till our hair turns white.
But who would want to see wedding candles turning into tears of blood.
Alas, I caused my lord to be tangled in the same web of sin,
Let us fulfill our obligations and respectfully kneel before the flower candles4.
We shall exchange our cups; The tomb is our bridal chamber,
Future generation shall sing of praises to Princess Consort’s spiritual tablet.
The willow shade shall be our hibiscus drapes6
The Princess Consort of the Ming Dynasty will now take a look at his bride7.
Deep into the night, give me the excuse of pricking the wick8 for a peek at her.
Till the Earth turns old and Heaven becomes desolate,
But the phoenixes will always be in love.
In willingness, a toast to my husband I shall give, we kowtowed to each other with our cups raised high9
Let us drink slowly with these golden cups,
In tears as we drink these grapes dripped in arsenic.
In our midst of joy and drunkenness, let us dream of home.
Clinking our cups together, we shall now set foot on the night terrace.
Alas this hundred flower crown shall be my funeral adornment,
Let this Princess Consort be the ornament10 to this tomb.
Let us embrace,
Let us snuggle.
In the tree a pair of branches will reveal the fragrance of Princess Flower.
Will always be with her sincere lover.
As husband and wife die, the trees will take on their forms11.
Edited by the Jimbo.
1. The shining pearls refer to the crown the Princess is wearing. The brilliance of the jewels made the flowers look pale and yellow.
2. In the movie version of the opera performed by the same actresses, the lyrics of the melody were changed so as to explain the lovers’ tragic fate. He was the golden boy and she was the fairy in charge of scattering flowers. I was able to get hold of the lyrics for the movie’s end.
Mists obscuring the lands beyond this mortal world,
Immortal abodes mistaken for the Lunar Terrace.
The flower scattering Fairy once more meet her fellow immortals,
Once more in the golden Audience Hall, she returns to her original position serving the Jade Emperor.
3. Yellow springs is a euphemism for Hades. When digging a well, the color of water is yellow at its deepest level. Also known as Nine Springs (九泉) because there are nine levels in Heaven and so on earth there must be nine levels as well. Chinese Hades is below that 9th earth level. In the original text, 泉壤–'spring soil’ was used instead to refer the land of the dead.
4. Night of flowers and candles – the wedding night. A table is prepared for the newly wed couple to feast in their room. A pair of elaborately carved red candles are burning together side-by-side on the table. This is used to symbolize the new life the couple faces and that they both may have the same life span like the candles.
5. 請安 – inquiring about the health of one’s parents or superiors. It is a daily filial ritual in old China. In this case, of course, the father, the Ming Emperor, is dead. However, since they are about to meet in Hades, it is still a compulsory ritual for them.
6. Hibiscus drapes is nothing more than a flowery description of drapes surrounding a Chinese bed which resembles a tiny room in itself.
7. The bride is covered by a red veil and the groom will flick it up to see his bride. A formal ritual that he has accepted her as wife.
8. There are no electric bulbs in the old days! One has to prick the candle wick up to make the room brighter. What is meant here is for him to have a better look at her.
9. During the private moments in the bed chamber, the husband and wife go through a ritual of kowtowing to each other as a sign of mutual respect and finally a toast by exchanging their cups of wine raised high to their eyebrow level to pledge their love and fidelity.
10. 珈 is an ornament in women’s hairpin. So I guess Princess Consort is comparing himself to this kind of ornament to signify that he will never be parted from the hairpin representing Princess Flower.
11. As indicated in the introductory poem that there are two strange trees in the imperial forest.
(長平燒香一炷起小曲粧台秋思唱）落花滿天蔽月光，借一杯附薦鳳臺上，帝女花帶淚上香，願喪 生回謝爹娘，偷偷看，偷偷望，佢帶淚帶淚暗悲傷，我半帶驚惶，怕駙馬惜鸞鳳配，不甘殉愛伴我 臨泉壤。