红楼梦 – Dream of the Red Mansion
In the run-up to the Chinese New Year celebrations, I managed to get hold of those great poems from 红楼梦 – Dream of the Red Mansion in English.
I wanted to share them with you because I think they rank among the best poems ever and they do not get the praise they deserve.
Let me know if you like them as much as I do! 😉
FIRST SONG: Prologue To The Dream of the Red Mansion
At the dawn of creation
Who sowed the seeds of love?
From the strong passion of breeze and moonlight they came.
So in this world of sweet longingOn a day of distress, in an hour of loneliness,
Fain would I impact my senseless grief
By singing this Dream of Red Mansions
To mourn the Gold and the Jade.
SECOND SONG: A Life Misspent
Well-matched, all say, the gold and the jade;
I alone recall the pledge between plant and stone.
Vainly facing the hermit in sparking snow-clad hills
I forgot not the fairy in lone woods beyond the world.
I sigh, learning that no man’s happiness in complete;
Even a pair thought well-matchedMay find disappointment.
THIRD SONG: Vain Longing
One is an immortal flower of fairyland, the other fair flawless jade.
And were it not predestined, why should they meet again in this existence?
Yet, if predestined, why does their love come to nothing?
One signs to no purpose, the other yearns in vain.
One is the moon reflected in the water, the other but a flower in the mirror.
How many tears can well from autumn till winter, from spring till summer?
FOURTH SONG: The Transience of Life
At the height of honour and splendour, Death comes for her;
Opened-eyed, she has to leave everything behind
As her gentle soul passes away.
So far her home beyond the distant mountains
That in a dream she finds and tells her parents;
“Your child has gone now to the Yellow Spring;
you must find a retreat before it is too late.”
FIFTH SONG: Separation From Dear Ones
Three thousand Li she must sail through wind and rain,
Giving up her home and her own flesh and blood;
But afraid of distress their declining years with tears
She tells her parents : “Don’t grieve for your child.
From of old good luck and bad have been predestined,
Parting and reunions are decreed by fate;
Although from now on we shall dwell far apart,
Let us still live at peace;
Don’t worry over your unworthy daughter.”
SIXTH SONG: Sorrow Amidst Joy
She is still in her cradle when her parents die,
Although living in luxury who will dote on her?
Happily she is born too courageous and open-hearted
Ever to take a love affair to heart.
Like bright moon and fresh breeze in a hall of jade
She is matched with a talented and handsome husband;
May she live with him for long years
To make up for her wretched childhood!
But over the kaotang Tower the clouds disperse,
The river Hsiang runs dry.
This is the common fate of mortal men
Useless it is repine.
SEVENTH SONG: Spurned By The World
By nature fair as an orchid
With talents to match an immortal,
Yet so eccentric that all marvel at her.
To her, rich food stinks.
Silken raiment is vulgar and loathsome;
She knows not that superiority fosters hatred,
Her powder and red chamber, her youth and beauty wasted,
To end, despite herself, defiled on the dusty road,
Even as lawless white jade dropped in the mud.
In vain young scions of noble houses will sigh for her.
EIGHTH SONG: Union of Enemies
A mountain wolf, a savage ruthless beast,
Mindless of past obligationsGives himself up to pride, luxury and license,
Holding cheap the charms of a noble family’s daughter,
Trampling on the precious child of a ducal mansion.
Alas, in less than a year her sweet soul fades away.
NINTH SONG: Perception of The Transience of Flowers
She will see through the three Spring and set no store
By the red of peach-blossom, the green of willows,
To savour the limpid peace of a clear sky.
Though the peach runs riot against the sky.
Though the clouds teem with apricot blossom.
Who has seen any flower that can win safely through autumn?
Even now mourners are lamenting by groves of poplars,
Ghosts are wiling below green maples,
And the weeds above their graves stretch to the skyline.
Truly, changes in fortune are the cause of men’s toil,
Spring blooming and autumn withering the fate of flowers.
Who can escape the gate of birth, the fate of death?
Yet in the west, they say grows the sal tree
Which bears the fruit of immortality.
A pun meaning the three months of spring and the three elder Chia
girls. All the Chia girls had the character spring in their names.
It was said that Sakyamuni (Buddha) attained Buddhahood in a grove of sal trees.
THENTH SONG: Ruined By Cunning
Too much cunning in plotting and scheming
Is the cause of her own undoing;
While yet living her heart is broken
And after death all her subtlety comes to nothing.
A rich house, all its members at peace,
Is ruined at last and scattered;
In vain her anxious thought for half a lifetime,
For like a disturbing dream at dead of night,
Like the thunderous collapse of a great mansion,
Or the flickering of a lamp that gutters out,
Mirth is suddenly changed to sorrow.
Ah, nothing is certain in the world of men.
ELEVENTH SONG: A Little Act of Kindness
Thanks to one small act of kindness
She meets by chance a grateful friend;
Fortunate that her mother
Has done some unnoticed good.
Men should rescue the distressed and aid the poor,
Be not like her heartless uncle or treacherous cousin
Who for love of money forget their own flesh and blood.
Truly, rewards and punishments are meted out by Heaven.
TWELFTH SONG: Splendour Comes Too Late
Love is only a reflection in a mirror,
Worse still, rank and fame are nothing but a dream,
So quickly youth and beauty fade away.
Say no more of embroidered curtain and love-bird quilts,
Nor can a pearl tiara and phoenix jacket
Stave off for long Death’s summons.
Though it is said that old age should be free from want,
This depends on the unknown merits laid by for one’s children.
Jubilant in official headdress
And glittering with a gold seal of high office,
A man may be awe-inspiring and exalted,
But the gloomy way to the Yellow Spring is near.
What remains of the generals and statesmen of old?
Nothing but an empty name admired by posterity.
THIRTEENTH SONG: Good Thing Come To An End
Fragrant dust falls from painted beams at the close of spring;
By nature passionate and fair as the moon,
Her true root is of the family’s destruction.
The decline of the old tradition starts with Jing,
The chief blame for the house’s ruin rests with Ning,
All their sins come about through Love.
EPILOGUE: The Birds Scatter To The Wood
An official household declines,
Rich nobles’ wealth is spent.
She who did good escapes the jaws of death,
The heartless meet with certain retribution.
Those who took a life have paid with their own lives,
The tears one owed have all been requited in kind,
Not light the retribution for sins against others;
All are predestined, parting and reunions.
Seek the cause of untimely death in a past existence,
Lucky she who enjoys rank and riches in old age;
Those who see through the world escape from the world.
While foolish lovers forfeit their lives for nothing.
When the food is gone the birds return to the wood;
All that’s left is emptiness and a great void.
A small note about 红楼梦 – Dream of the Red Mansion
That’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed those poems from 红楼梦 – Dream of the Red Mansion. The Dream of the Red Mansion is ranked among the 4 classics of Chinese literature and I urge you to read it, should you be interested in discovering more about Chinese culture.
Posted on February 6, 2021 by Mat.