Wang Guowei: Lyrics to a Forgotten Tune (From Chinese)

Wang Guowei in the early 20th century realizing as he writes in the classical style, that what he's saying doesn't match what he's thinking. The traditional poetry once had a vital social function, served as a means of refined expression, and was normally taken to be non-fictional. Now it corresponds to no reality whatever. It's become a heap of clichés that don't align with the world he knows, an arabesque of refined wordgames.


Lyrics to a Forgotten Tune

Wang Guowei
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Is there something real in the words  
                 to these new songs of yours?
To maiden heads those fancy phrases 
                  are laughably soft-core*
"Lamplight o'er a broken heart..." 
               just who'd you write that for?
Behind my desk I peer around  
               at recent works of mine
Then dim the lights and reckon out 
               the joys of bygone times
All trivial affairs of the heart 
             where not one line aligns


* This line is a pun about puns. The term 綺語 means either "ornate writing, fancy phrasing" or more euphemistically "smutty language, erotica." The term 胡盧 means "loud laughter" or "calabash, bottle gourd" (in this latter sense also written 葫蘆.) Calabash may be used to allude to the closed world of women, to various hidden forbidden delights, or to the vagina and the delights sequestered therein. It could be read to mean "ornate writing like this is just hilarious" or else something like "this kind of innuendo belongs between the sheets." To top it off 綺語 is also a homophone for 岐語 "double entendre"

The Original:


浣溪沙

本事新詞定有無,
這般綺語太胡盧。
燈前腸斷為誰書?
隱几窺君新製作,
背燈數妾舊歡愉。
區區情事總難符。

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