Mourning Thoughts   In Memory of Professor Li Fang-Kuei

Pang-Hsin Ting
Translated by Samuel Hung-nin Cheung

When Professor Fang-Kuei Li passed away in 1987, I was visiting the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The news was a blow and left me devastated for a long time. The following year, at the request of Mrs. Li, I went to the San Francisco Bay Area and worked on Professor Li’s library collection, which was to be donated to the Institute of History and Philology of the Academia Sinica. Upon returning to Taiwan, I wrote this poem. Although the words are many, they do not adequately express how much I miss him.

Three sections of the poem, each beginning with “Ah, I remember” recount the happy days I experienced while working with Professor Li in Seattle, Hawaii, and Taiwan. Seattle was translated as She-lu in old Cantonese, a rendition that Professor Li often used in his writings. A scholar dedicated to research, Professor Li also enjoyed playing the flute and singing along with Mrs. Li lyrics from the Kunqu opera. At times, he took up the brush and painted birds and flowers, his favorite subjects.

When A Study of the Old Tibetan Inscriptions was published, I sent him a copy by express mail. The book pleased him, and, despite his failing health, he read it with enthusiasm. A few days later, he died. The last two couplets in the poem are constructed with the embedding of both Mr. And Mrs. Li’s Chinese names, an attempt to characterize both the enduring love they had for each other and our fond remembrances of the couple for decades to come.

Days are saddened by thoughts I cannot dismiss;
Thoughts of you, my mentor; twenty years of blessing and bliss.
Mountains darkened, the messenger found me at the Waters of Fragrance;
Stranded afar, I offered you incense in grief and reverence.
Ah, I remember the days I roamed with you on the road to the west;
Grasses stretched from the pavilion, verdant to the farthest.
Rhymes of the past, you rendered each anew;
My senses freshened like buds with dew.
The lofty pine stood, needles sharp in array;
Cuckoos cried, forsythias burst a splendid display.
Going westward ever, I dare not;
The sight of the verdant meadow, my mind distraught.
Ah, I remember the days I sought you in the isle of the east;
Mountains alive with winds and drizzle - what a springtime feast.
Words of the red men, who else would reckon?
Writings on Tai now made a divine canon.
The music of kun, meandering through many a cloud on high;
Flirting with a flute, you blew a kiss to the waning eve nigh.
Those memories of the isles, rivers and seas;
A dream quickly fading behind the misty breeze.
Ah, I remember the days you returned ‘neath the national gate;
Of those old chums, I wonder how many still robust of late?
The golden pin you passed on with passion and grace;
A young lad’s heart you touched, a smile on your face.
Purple crabs, crimson leaves, a season that never grew old;
Hamlets to cross, laughter to share, your hands to hold.
Color splashing, your strokes vivid as new;
In lonely tears, I gazed on a shimmering hue.
Ah, somber and sad, I returned to the golden shore;
The terrace by the lake an old nest no more.
Wing to wing you used to soar, now one bird alone;
Your last joy, I learnt, was when the new volume shown.
Volumes, many and rare, now other men’s delight;
Dusty covers I stroked late in the night.
Adieu, I bowed again; incense burning, ashes at rest;
A mourning song from whence I heard lingering notes, a heart depressed.
Between life and death, the fire continues to illumine;
Cassia gone, hundreds more to bloom.
To and fro, gently on the land of purity;
The cherry sways by the plum, a glowing eternity.