It is that brief look she gave me that bedevils me...
The Romance of the Western Chamber has delighted the Chinese poeple for over the last 12 centuries. It was first written as a short story by Yuan Chen (778-831 AD), the poet-scholar and close friend of Bai Chi-yi. The story is believed to have been based on an actual love affair between Yuan and a beautiful maid, Ying Ying (Nightingale). In the short story, the two did not see each other again after Yuan goes to the Capital for the Imperial Examination. Later in the 12th Century, Tung Chieh-yuan expanded the tale into a poem of eight book and over 50,000 words. Other authors had also re-adapted it into plays.
The excerpt is from a translation by TC Lai and Ed Gamarekian (1973). After the excerpts is a reproduction of a Macau postage stamp depicting the scholar climbing over the wall to rendezvous with Ying Ying.
Scholar Chang (his first glimpse of the beautiful Nightingale): But it is that brief look she gave me that bedevils me; that look alone begins to drive me insane with love. And now she is gone to where paradise must be, leaving the willows and me in the mist.
Even the pear blossoms in her courtyard are inaccessible; the gate is locked and this wall might as well be as high as the sky. How hateful a heaven that doesn't help! There is nothing to do but wait, I suppose. But how long now? My mind races like a wild horse and my heart throbs like a bear confused.
Her fragrance and movement are still in the air; there is the scent of orchid and musk, and the echo of tinkling jade. I see her lotus face aglow in the willow where the gossamer branches hang beaded with petals of peach blossoms.
[Part One, Act 1]
Scholar Chang (making love to Nightingale): Delicate embroidered shoes, only half the size of mine; a lovely face overcome with shyness, unable to look into mine.
Gently now, your head on my pillow where the love birds flutter in joy. Now the golden hairpins and your hair is free. You are even more beautiful than I imagined in my sleepless torment.
And now the belt and the buttons. How still you are! Do you know how completely you have enslaved me? Why do you not look at me? Why are you so quiet?
My arms find you soft, warm and fragrant.; and I am in paradise. It is spring and the jade flower is in the fullness of bloom. Under the faint glow of the lamp I begin to glimpse the swell of a breast, so pure and full, and below it is a waist of willow, soft and trembling. You are so exquisite, I know not where your loveliness begins.
I love you with all my heart and soul and am stunned by your virginal purity but desire overcomes my hesitation.
I kiss your sweet fragrant cheeks; and as the heart of the flower is gently brushed, its petals open with drops of dew. And then I begin to know the indescribable joy of a fish in a quivering stream, of a butterfly fluttering in rapture from the sweet nectar of newly-opened buds.
My happiness mounts, my soul flies to the highest heaven. Ah, joy, so complete but still unreal. Has it really happened? The dew falls on the fragrant earth and a blessed mist begins to envelop me. Was this union only a dream or have we really met, sweet lady, so full of love?
[Part Four, Act 1]
Separation. Chang on the road to the Capital to prepare for the imperial examination. Staying overnight in an inn, he dreams of Nightingale:
Voice of Nightingale: How long will it take through the lonely wilds and over the barren plains? Panting, out of breath, I must overtake him as quickly as I can.
I must go in, I must, despite my fear of the desolate darkness; my aching heart does not allow me to do otherwise.
When I saw you mount and ride off, I could no longer control my grief; I wept and began to waste away, unable to eat or sleep. Our life together had only just begun when ambition took you away. From the heartache that preceded our meeting, we have been plunged into an even greater sorrow by our parting.
The long grass glistens and white frost covers the fallen leaves. The wind blows like fury along the rough and winding road but I must continue my search. Where are you? Where are you?
[Part Four, Act 4]
Under a low moon, Scholar Chang climbs over the wall to catch a glimpse of Nightingale (Ying Ying). Macau stamp, June 10, 2005