韓熙載夜宴圖 The Night Revels of Han Xizai

Translated by Helen Wallimann  

The Night Revels of Han Xizai 韓熙載夜宴圖

I'm woken with a start by the strike of a gong
The gently plucked pipa
has already ceased its play
The graceful Green Waist Dance is about to begin
So I arise, adjust my ministerial hat
go and beat the hourglass drum
in time to the girl's dancing
As you might know there's no recreation
could free me from the heaviness of night
But it's senseless to brood
when people are here

Over there the lamps are lit to welcome guests
Liquor and delicacies, perfumed tea and song are on offer
The host in his generosity
has engaged five girls to play the flute
toast the guests, pour wine
has them perform the Sikuai dance
Why shouldn't the Buddhist monk do the Eighteen Arhats dance with them?
Why not
recite the newest ci-poems?

Whoever is tired
can sit down and listen to the courtesans
play the transverse and the vertical flute in unison
Or wander around to the sound of the pipa-player's singing
beating time with the chattering clappers
Don't wait needlessly until
the make-up is spoiled
and the peach-blossom faces altered
Listen now to the long drawn-out melodious sounds
Treasure the moment, the bright dance costumes
whirling in front of us as we drink

You see the Number One Scholar being wooed by a courtesan
You see the gifted scholar drunk
bewildered and confused
You see the woman's billowy hairdo askew
the slightly heavier breathing
Shamefaced painter, I can see you
hidden among the guests
decorously observing our decadence

Don't try to evade my scrutiny
I merely want to know
if you've ever been lured by song and dance
into broadening the picture you hold in your mind
Are you on the watch for suspicious things in others' hearts?
Or could it be that you think the artist's duty is merely
to cringingly replicate the ruling powers' predictions
to curry their favour with the city's hottest topics
so that the feelings
of those being watched still remain
out of your range?

Let me sound you out a little further
with the tiny feet of the five girls
as they nimbly beat the snare drum
The way your looks follow
the soft and delicate covert movements
of those toes and ankles,
the way you follow
the beads of sweat on the necks of the girls
as with demurely bowed heads
they do the ribbon dance,
with all your prying can you paint an era
its dancers, their dancing?

Oh dear, perhaps the only focus of your narration is on
the desire for debauchery, the excessive love of alcohol
Who can enlarge your picture's field of vision?
Can see in your brushstrokes the world outside your scroll
the chaotic government by cabals, the collapse of codes of etiquette?
For the moment just let me furiously beat the rattle-drum
to dispel a one hundred year long history of melancholy

Farewell, you well-entertained guests.
Whether you realise it or not
our place in history
has always been one of unfulfilled aspirations
and unrequited passions
Farewell, dutiful artist
honest observer
After all you can probably only paint
what your eyes can see
I watch you all as you leave my stage
Seated alone on this old chair
I lose myself in thought
while strings and flutes play on
unheard


Written 2008, revised 2010









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Copyright © AIEL 2008. All words and images are the property of Leung Ping Kwan and his associates. All Rights Reserved.