Poems of Bai Juyi
White-haired Graveyard Beauty
Your rosy cheeks are dimmed but your white hair is still fresh.
In your green robes, you watch these palace gates
Which have kept you in the grave these many springs.
Late in life, your took your Buddhist vows,
Like a fashionable sixteen-year-old at sixty.
And still you took another hundred men
As your years withered and your body failed you.
Remember how you swallowed the grief of strangers?
As they helped you to your carriage, you were not allowed to cry.
Every cloud passing over seemed to bless you --
Your face more like a lily, breasts ever more like jade.
The closest you came to meeting the emperor
Was the distant jealous glances of his favorite.
It was her jealousy that put you here.
It was your life that brought you to this empty room.
This empty room, long autumn night,
Long night without sleep, far from Heaven.
As the dying lamp casts its shadows on the wall,
Dark rain against the window whispers desolation.
This spring day, you sit alone and watch the sky turn to dusk.
The singing of these palace songbirds only makes you tired.
This pair of swallows on the roof's ridge you have long stopped envying.
Songbirds alight, swallows leave, your sorrow goes on and on.
Spring departs, autumn returns, you can't even remember their changes.
Alone in this dark palace you watch the bright moon
And hundreds of memories return to swirl about your mind.
Now, among these tombs, your own times have fallen away.
Everyone thinks of you as a character from the Book of History.
Your little shoes, still delicate. Your clothes, they cling.
Your dark-dyed eyebrows, still delicate and long.
Those who never saw you would smile to see you now.
Beyond the end of her years, Heaven's Treasure is still fashionable.
Graveyard beauty, you suffered more than most.
Now all your hardships have ended
Suffering, no suffering, what does it matter now?
Before you came, no woman had ever been as beautiful as her own music.
Never again will we hear this white-haired beauty sing.
This is the 12th poem in Songs of Qin which Bai Juyi published in 809. 上阳人 is the same as 陵园妾, or Graveyard Concubine which I suppose is from the original Qin poem. This poem has been brought into Tang times with the reference to the emporer's favorite, who was Yang Fei. She was from the same family as Bai Juyi's wife and Du Fu's wife. So the white-haired beauty here may well have been someone who Bai Juyi knew. This would explain his sadness in the poem.