Poems of Li Ye
On Hearing Brother-in-Law Xiao play the Lute, a Poetic Essay on the Three Gorges' Fountain Song
My home was originally the Wushan clouds
And Wushan fountain sounded often in my ears.
Like a jade lute's music it transformed the silence
So that being there was always like a dream.
Three Gorges far away, how many leagues?
Briefly there it flows, into a secret chamber,
Where great rocks will fall if pushed with a finger
And the waves from the fountain become musical strings.
First you feel the anger in the thundering wind.
Then water is sobbing where it cannot flow through.
This music rushing back and forth surely must end
Where it comes down to a trickle on final, quiet sands.
In ancient days, Duke Ruan would play this fountain tune
And his courtiers would never grow tired of it.
As soon as he had played it through, he would take it up again.
And, like the fountain in the gorges, it still rolls over us.
I have just one little remark to make on the title of this poem. I think it indicates that Li Ye, at some point, is married. The character shu1 (叔) can mean "uncle" which can be an affectionate term. But shu1zi5 (叔子) means "brother-in-law" or "husband's younger brother." Was she married before becoming a Daoist nun? After? Was she a widow? Did her husband divorce her due to her wanting to be a nun? Lots of questions and no answers. But unless we want to translate 萧叔子 as "whistling uncle's son," our picture of Li Ye must include her marraige, whatever that means.