The Peacock Flies to the Southeast

9 May

Kǒngquè dōngnán fēi, wǔlǐ yī páihuái.
Southeast the love-lorn peacock flies. Alack, at every mile she falters and looks back!
The peacock (孔雀 Kǒngquè) flies (飞 fēi) to the southeast (东南 dōngnán)> is the first long narrative (叙事 xùshì) poem in Chinese literature (文学 wénxué) history. It is remembered as one of the most brilliant pieces in literature, and also a touching (感人的 gǎnrénde) tragic (悲剧 bēijù) love story that has been told generation by generation.

The story (故事 gùshì) happened in the late East Han Dynasty (196-219 A.D.). Heroine Liú Lánzhī (刘兰芝), from an ordinary family(家庭 jiātíng), married Jiāo Zhōngqīng(焦仲卿), who was born in a decent official family. The couple faithfully loved (爱 ài) each other and even promised (承诺 chéngnuò) to be together in life after death (来生 láishēng). However, the heroine’s mother-in-law (婆婆 pópo) disliked the marriage (婚姻 hūnyīn) and cruelly drove our heroine out of the family. Lanzhi was sent home and forced to remarry by her elder brother (哥哥 gēge). Even reluctant, women had no right (权力 quánlì) of speech at ancient (古代 gǔdài)China. In desperation (绝望 juéwàng), Lanzhi demonstrated her devotion in love and committed suicide (自杀 zìshā) by jumping into water. Knowing that they would no longer be together anymore, Zhongqing committed suicide after (在…之后 zài…zhīhòu) his wife’s death by hanging. Sadly, the couple finally stayed together by being buried (埋葬 máizàng) in one grave (坟墓 fénmù). Though (虽然 suīrán) the couple were gone, the beautiful verse (诗句 shījù) was read again and again in memory of (纪念 jìniàn) them:

Jūn dāng zuò pánshí, qiè dāng rú púwěi, púwěi rèn rúsī, pánshí wú zhuǎnyí.
You must be like a strong rock, and I will be a bulrush. The bulrush tenaciously bends the rock but will not break; and the rock, will never move.
(This verse was said by Lanzhi to her husband at the moment of leaving. It’s an simile to restate their love commitment.)

君 – gentleman, here implies the husband
妾 – I, here implies the wife
磐石 – a huge rock, great rock / 蒲苇 – bulrush
韧 – tenacious / 转移 – move; shift; change


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