Poems of Mi Fu
Officer Ruan's Leavetaking
(Written on Haidai Tower, drinking with a parting guest.)
Pairs of mated ducks play among the duckweed.
See how many pass through the soft smoke of the willows.
The sound of a flute sobs in the clarity of autumn
And blue clouds give birth to evening's sadness.
A crescent moon hangs bright above the gathering red sunset.
By the south bank, men are out in boats.
It is beautiful somewhere but this smoke dims our vision.
We look at each other in vain, leaning on this railing.
Mallards (鸳鸯) are a symbol of enduring fidelity. The smoke of distant willows (烟柳) is a poetic cliché. So are the dark blue clouds (碧云). In fact it's all a normal poem of parting, full of echoes of past poems. That's what clichés are, echoes of the past. The poem only becomes interesting to me with 娟娟何处 where he uses 何处 as "somewhere" rather than the usual "where?". (We need the period because the question mark is part of the where.) The rest of that line combines "smoke" (烟) and "bright eyes" (明眸). This line conjures up a great deal, without cynicism or sarcasm. It's full of sadness, really. And the final line shows that the sadness will endure.