Li’s true interest was literature and pleasure; he was never interested in politics or running the state and only became emperor by accident after several relatives died. Later, his life turned sad as his wife died and his kingdom fell to the Song Dynasty. He was imprisoned there, with his lover. Worse yet, when the Song emperor died, his cruel brother took over and frequently raped Li’s lover. Finally, he died by poisoning.
This poem tells the story of a man visiting his lover, who cannot leave the palace. It was written by Li Yu (937–978 AD), last emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty, and probably directed to his lover, his wife’s sister and a woman renowned for her beauty.
By Li Yu
Enchanted lady, trapped in the palace above,
You sleep in silence, alit by the sun in a painted hall.
Your pillow spread with shining clouds of jade,
Clothes embroidered, and perfume scented rare.
Secretly I come and lift your jeweled lock,
And wake you, startled from your dreaming screen.
Seeing each other with passion unbound.
Péng lái yuàn bì tiān tái nǚ,
Huà táng zhòu qǐn rén wú yǔ.
Pāo zhěn cuì yún guāng,
Xiù yī wén yì xiāng.
Qián lái zhū suǒ dòng,
Jīng jué yín píng mèng.
Liǎn màn xiào yíng yíng,
Xiāng kàn wú xiàn qíng.
Peng-lai(1) courtyard closed heaven platform(2) female,
Painting hall daytime lie-down person not speak.
Throw pillow jade-green cloud bright,
Embroidered clothes smell rare perfume.
Secretly come jeweled lock move,
Wake-up startled silver screen dream.
Face slow smiling all all
Mutual look no limit passion
(1) Penglai is a city and also the name of some mythical, enchanted islands
(2) Tientai can mean a place name or “heaven platform.” Mt. Tiantai was the center of Tientai Buddhism, and is so related to the poem’s title.