Gui Yuan Cao  
 T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
Zhengchuan Zhengzong Qinpu ToC       Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao 聽錄音 Recording with transcription   首頁
Lament in a Lady's Chamber
- Zhi mode:2 Standard tuning, 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
閨怨操 1
Gui Yuan Cao
A lady alone in her chamber3      
This melody was published in 1609, where it was set to the very well-known lyrics that form a sad poem in the voice of a lady lamenting a lover who has just departed, or is about to depart. The lyrics, except for those of a coda, are slightly modified from those of a poem by the famous woman poet Li Qingzhao (1084 - ca. 1151).4 In the late 17th century her poem was also set to completely different music in a Japanese handbook; there the melody was given the same name as the poem, On Phoenix Terrace Recalling the Playing of a Flute (Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao).5 Similar thoughts, often with the husband or lover gone to the frontier to seek advancement, can be found in other qin songs or melodies such as the "pounding cloth" songs Dao Yi (in the present handbook) and Dao Yi Qu (1539).

Both of these musically unrelated settings of the poem have been published in Qinqu Jicheng.6 For both versions the source of the melody is unknown. The present setting is the earliest. It was not published in the original edition of Boya Xinfa (1589), but in the second edition, 1609, where it was called Gui Yuan Cao. Ro the original poem this version adds a brief coda of unknown origin. This setting was then copied in at least one other handbook, Yifengyuan Qinpu (1709).

The other setting, using the name commonly associated with Li Qingzhao's poem but with a completely different melody, was included as #15 in the Japanese handbook Hewen Zhu(yin) Qinpu (Wabun Chuyin Kinpu [?]).7 There a comment at the end of the song says "revisions were made by the hand of Toko Etsu".8 This may suggest that Jiang Xingchou (in Japan known as Shin-Etsu and Toko-Etsu) brought the latter melody with him from China in 1677, revising it after he was in Japan. However, that melody itself is not known to have been preserved in China.9

The title Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao comes from a ci pattern of this name;11 it is not directly connected to the story told by Li Qingzhao's poem, and in this way the title of the present melody is more appropriate to this setting of her poem. The title Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao originally referred to an old story about Xiao Shi and Nong Yu,12 who fell in love through the sound of a flute.13 Xiao Shi was impoverished but highly skilled (other versions say he was a deity). Nong Yu was a daughter of Duke Mu of Qin (reigned 659-621). When playing the flute Xiao Shi was able to imitate the sound of phoenixes.14 Nong Yu fell in love with him and eventually they married. He taught her to play the way a phoenix calls out. After several decades of this, male and female phoenixes would come down in response to the sounds. The duke then built a Phoenix Terrace, where the couple would spend their time. Several more years later Nong Yu got on a phoenix, Xiao Shi mounted a dragon, and the two of them ascended into immortality.

This old love story was once very well-known. Images of Xiao Shi and Nong Yu could often be found in temples. There are at least eight old Fenghuang Tai in six different provinces.15 And the Jade Maiden Shrine on Jade Maiden Peak in the middle of the Huashan Mountain Range is sometimes said to commemorate Nong Yu.16

The poem by Li Qingzhao reflects the thoughts of a woman whose lover is about to go away. As a ci poem it was set to the character per line count of an earlier song, the lyrics and melody of which are apparently lost, but the name of which was Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao. To distinguish it from other poems using the same structure (of which there are many) it is sometimes called Li Bie (Separation), to the tune Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao.17 The absent lover presumably reminds the narrator of the famous old love story, but there are no specific statements about or allusions to it.

There are several published translations of the poem into English. And the original Chinese text is online in several places. For example, see an online facsimile edition.

The Chinese text accompanied by the qin melody as published in Japan but played on a xiao flute is also online.18 It follows not the published transcription by Wang Di,19 but the transcription of a reconstruction by Yao Bingyan.20

Original preface21

Li Yi'an (i.e., Li Qingzhao) used elegance in a lady's chamber, adding unforgettable ci lyrics; this was On Phoenix Terrace Recalling the Playing of a Flute. Because of regret that this short Song dynasty ci the melody has not been transmitted to the present, this is now composed for the silk-string qin, adding a bit (the coda?), adding for delight (?). Listeners can value this.
(Tentative translation.)

Written before the tablature:

Tablature by qin friend Kong Xingyou of Juqu (Maoshan)
Music (see transcription; timings follow my recording; 聽錄音 listen)
Two sections plus a coda; a mostly syllabic setting of the lyrics22 (see also other translations)
        - compare my recording of Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao

Opening harmonics: 00.00 (taken from the end of the closing harmonics)
Section 1:   00.11
香   冷   金   猊,   被   翻   紅   浪,   起   來   慵   自   梳   頭。
Xiāng lěng jīn ní, bèi fān hóng làng,     qǐ lái yōng zì shū tóu.
Incense cold (in my) gold lion (-shaped censer), quilt ruffled (like) red waves,
      I arise and carelessly comb my hair.

任   寶   奩   塵   滿,   日   上   簾   鉤。       (1676 adds 憑他)
Rèn bǎo lián chén mǎn, rì shàng lián gōu.
I've let my valuable dressing case (become) dust covered,
      and the sun has risen to the level of the curtain hooks.

怕   的   是   離   愁   別   苦,   多   少   事,   欲   說   還   休。       (1676: 生怕離懷別苦)
Pà de shì lí chóu bié kǔ,               duō shǎo shì,   yù shuō hái xiū.
Arisen are fears of parting emotions and separation blues,
      so many matters, I want to discuss them all but still I pause.

如   今   新   來   瘙,   非   于   病   酒,   不   是   悲   愁。       (1676: no 如今 and has 不是悲秋。)
Rú jīn xīn lái sào,         fēi yú bìng jiǔ,         bù shì bēi chóu.
Now I've become thin, not from craving wine,
      and not the sadness of autumn.

Section 2:   01.20
休,休!   這   回   歸   去   也,   千   萬   遍「陽關」,   也   則   難   留。       (1676: no 歸)
Xiū, xiū!   Zhè huí guī qù yě,   qiān wàn biàn "Yáng Guān",   yě zé nán liú.
Stop, stop! This time (when you) returned home,
      there were 10,000 parting songs, yet it was difficult for you to linger.

念   武   陵   人   遠,   煙   鎖   秦   樓。
Niàn Wǔlíng rén yuǎn, yān suǒ qín lóu.
I think of (my) man amongst immortals far away,
      (while I remain in) a mist-locked family tower.

惟   有   樓   前   流   水,   應   念   我   終   日   凝   眸。
Wéi yǒu lóu qián liú shuǐ, yīng niàn wǒ zhōng rì níng móu.
There is only, in front of my tower, a flowing stream,
      to reflect memories of me and my everlasting vacant stare.

凝   眸   處,   從   今   又   添,   一   段   新   愁。
Níng móu chù, cóng jīn yòu tiān,   yī duàn xīn chóu.
This vacant staring: from now there is added
      a new period of fresh sadness.

Harmonic coda:   02.25   (compare "old poem" with Dao Yi; these closing lyrics are not in 1676)
閨   中   離   婦   強   登   樓,   見   綠   柳   興   愁,
Guī zhōng lí fù qiáng dēng lóu,   jiàn lǜ liǔ xìng chóu,
In her chamber this forsaken wife forces herself to climb the tower;
      seeing green willows brings grief.

悔   教   夫   婿   覓   封   侯。
Huǐ jiào fū xù mì fēng hóu.
I regret what led to my husband going away for his enfeoffment.

End:   02.52

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Lament in a Lady's Chamber (閨怨操 Gui Yuan Cao; QQJC VII/198)
42221.14 has only 閨怨 gui yuan, with no mention of Li Qingzhao or music. By itself gui yuan means "lament in a lady's chamber" and the entry says a variety of poets have used this to express the theme of a lady separated from her lover or family.

2. Mode
The handbook (ToC) calls it 徵音 Zhi Yin. Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao, in contrast, uses a mode called 商音 Shang Yin.

3. Image: A lady alone in her chamber
A woodblock print from 張國標 Zhang Guobiao, ed., 徽派版畫藝術 Art of Woodcut of the Huizhou School, 安徽省美術出版社 Anhui Publishing House, 1995, p.208. The image would perhaps be more apt if it also showed a flowing stream, with the lady in a tower.

4. 李清照 Li Qingzhao (1084 - ca.1151; 14819.1038)
See further details. Of particular note, in addition to the poem set to Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao, is one of her poems to the tune "Washing at Creekside" (浣溪沙 Huàn Xī Shā), which includes the line "倚樓無語理瑤琴 High in my chamber and without a word I play (lit. 'arrange') my jade (-studded) qin." This may suggest she herself played it.

5. Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao in Japan
It was first published there in 1676 (XII/196). It is a new melody of unknown source. It does not seem to be in any of the later Japanese handbooks published in Qinqu Jicheng.

6. Tracing settings of the Li Qingzhao lyrics
Zha Guide lists Gui Yuan Cao (29/232/442) separately from Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao (35/--/505). The three settings are:


7. On Phoenix Terrace Recalling the Playing of a Flute (鳳凰臺上憶吹簫 Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao)
47631.131 has this as both a 詞牌 cipai and a 曲牌 qupai. The former quotes a story from 列仙傳,拾遺 Lost Records of the Liexian Zhuan. The latter mentions 李清照 Li Qingzhao and 香冷金猊 Xiang leng jin ni, the first four words of her poem; qupai suggests a connection with Yuan dynasty opera.

8. 東皋越杜多手校; 東皋越 Donggao = Toko Etsu; 杜多 duduo = monk (from dhuta [sanskrit]).

9. Ci structure
See below for a brief analysis of this ci structure and information on how to see copies of poems that use it. It must be emphasized that there is no evidence suggesting survival of any of the original melodies on which ci poems were based. In fact the ci structures do not necessarily follow the melodies, only the lyrics: the number of characters per phrase should remain more or less faithful to what it was in the original lyrics. However, as can be seen from a transcription of the Fenghuang Taishan melody here, although the melody largely follows the lyrics with one character (syllable) for each note, sometimes a character has more than one melodic note, and the ornamentation indicated also suggests the note values do not remain the same. For this and other reasons the rhythm of the melody is very much open to question. For more on this see my comments on pairing lyrics and music.

11. Although the old tablature was apparently preserved only in Japan, modern transcriptions from the Japanese tablature have been published in China. The transcriptions by Wang Di and Yao Bingyan are discussed below. The latter is apparently the source of modern attempts to revive this qin song.

12. 簫史 Xiao Shi; 弄玉 Nong Yu. (Return)

13. Flute: 簫 xiao today is a bamboo end-blown flute, but in those days the word could have referred either to the 排簫 paixiao panpipes (somewhat resembling the modern 笙 sheng mouth organ), or to the side-blown bamboo flute now called a 笛子 dizi. Some versions of this story have Xiao Shi playing the xiao and Nong Yu the sheng. (Her name means "Play Jade"; she was so named because she liked to play with jade as a child; perhaps she also had a jade sheng.)

14. 鸞鳳 Luan feng; luan seems be used here like 凰 huang: female phoenix. An expression for happy marriage is 鸞鳳和鳴 "luan and feng call out together". (Return)

15. I don't know how many of these are associated with this story. (Return)

16. 21296.29 玉女 Yu Nü has a number of entries, but none mentions Nong Yu.
    /.36 玉女峰 Yu Nü Feng (Jade Maiden Peak) also makes no mention of Nong Yu. (Return)

17. Separation (離別 Li bie)
43079.41 does not seem to have any references that connect to Li Qingzhao or music. (Return)

18. The performer not identified. The use of the xiao is of course appropriate to the title, but the lack of explanation may lead people to think this melody was originally for flute, whereas there is no actual evidence of what or where it was before being written in the Japanese handbook (see next footnote). (Return)

19. Transcription by Wang Di
Her transcription is published in her Qin Ge (which also has her Ziye Wu Ge). There is a clear mistake in the middle: between the words 生怕 shengpa and 悲愁 beichou the melody is mistakenly transposed up a fifth (compare her two Ziye Wu Ge transcriptions: these are a fifth apart). There is no such transposition in Yao Bingyan's transcription (see next footnote). (Return)

20. Yao Bingyan's reconstruction, published in Zhongguo Gudai Gequ, was based on the tablature in the same Japanese qin handbook used by Wang Di (see previous footnote). It was apparently put into staff notation by someone else, 沈德皓 Shen Dehao. This perhaps accounts for at least one of the two deviations in the transcription from the original tablature.

  1. In the third line the note (c) assigned in the tablature to the first character of the second phrase (多 duo) has instead been assigned to the last character of the previous phrase (苦 ku). This change in phrasing perhaps resulted from Yao only playing the melody, not singing it.

  2. Just before the end of the first line of the second stanza, played in harmonics, the character 難 nan is given two notes: it begins on an eighth note d (re, as indicated in the tablature), it then goes down to c, which is held quite long. In the original tablature an extra note was written in the margin at this place, but it is a repeat of the cluster assigned to nan. Such marginal notes also appear elsewhere in the tablature. Usually (but note always: here see the marginal correction next to 應 ying in the third line of the second stanza) they are the same as the note they appear next to. This gives the impression that perhaps in an earlier edition they were a correction: usually the correction has already been made, but for conservative reasons the marginal correction is retained. Here perhaps Yao interpreted the marginal correction as a separate note, then played it down one string. The problem is that this is a deviation from the rule that only one right hand stroke can be assigned to a syllable (i.e., a Chinese character). If the note is a slide, that would fit the rule, but such can not be the case here, since the passage is played in harmonics.

21. The original Chinese text is,


22. Li Qingzhao's original lyrics, sometimes given the sub-title 離別 Separation, form the first two verses, as follows (with character count); the source for the lyrics in the 尾 coda is unknown. The setting surviving in Japan (Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao) does not include a separate coda, instead putting the last line of second verse into harmonics.

香冷金猊,被翻紅浪,起來慵自梳頭。 4,4,6 (14)
  任寶奩塵滿,[憑他]日上簾鉤。 5,4    ( 9 ["憑他 as usual" is only in the Japanese edition])
  [生]怕(的是)離懷別苦,多少事,欲說還休。 6,3,4 (13  ( 9 ["生 " is only in the Japanese edition])
  (如今)新來瘙,非于病酒,不是悲愁。 3,4,4 (11; total for verse: 47 [not counting the "pingta"])
休休!這回(歸)去也。 2, 4 (6; 1609 added this "歸"; it is not in the original poem)
        千萬遍「陽關」,也則難留。       5,4 (9; total of 15 for this line)
  念武陵人遠,煙鎖秦樓。 5,4    ( 9; "武陵人 wuling ren": man amongst the immortals)
  惟有樓前流水,應念我(,)終日凝眸。 6,3,4 (13)
  凝眸處,從今又添(,)一段新愁。 3,4,4 (11; total for verse: 2 + 46)
閨中離婦強登樓, 7
  見綠柳興愁, 5
  悔教夫婿覓封侯。 7

Note: The McGill Ming Qing Women's Writing website's online original omits the 憑他 pingta that is here in line 2, and in line 3 of the second verse seems to have 終日 zongri instead of 終目 zongmu. So does another online version, which includes translation and analysis. The Xu Yuanzhang edition, which also omits pingta, has in the second last line zongmu instead of zongri; Xu also adds a second comma in each of the last two lines (as indicated above).

The McGill Ming Qing Women's Writing website includes 81 poems using the structure Fenghuang Taishang Yi Chui Xiao. At least four of these are translated in Chang and Saussy and the present lyrics are also translated in several places. From looking at the structure of the originals of the five translated poems, they are all quite similar. The main deviation seems to be in the three phrases after the two character interjection beginning the second verse. Does the structure here suggest that the the four lines of each verse are parallel and the two character interjection is separate from this? In other versions the first line of the first verse is always 4,4,6, but the first line of the second verse never is; usually it is 4,5,4, but there seem to be some variations here. (There is a similar first-line variation in Dongfeng Qi Zhuo Li.) My own interpretation, based on looking for parallel music structures, integrates 休休 xiu xiu with the the next phrase; musically, then, both verses with Li Qingzhao's text thus have four lines each and each line is divided into two musical phrases of equal musical length, but some having one text phrase, some having two. The coda is separate from this structure.

The four translations of poems in this structure referenced in Chang and Saussy are of poems by He Shuangqing (p. 454), Gu Maoyi (p. 493), Shen Xiang (p. 543) and Jiang Zhu (p. 546). The originals of the five poems using this meter discussed here, together with a list of 76 others, can be found through the search page on the McGill Ming Qing Women's Writing website. To search, set the top box for "Poem Title", and search for "Feng Huang Tai Shang Yi Chui Xiao" (i.e., separate syllables). It should yield 81 such poems by women writers (I have no information on how often male writers used this form).

My own reconstruction of the melody tries to capture as much as possible the parallels between the first and second verses, but I cannot claim that this interpretation inevitably follows from rhythms best suggested by the existing arrangement of the tablature.

Return to the top or to the Guqin ToC