Li He / Li Ho
A thousand miles of moonlight
'Cirrus Minor' is a strangely affecting song that begins with birdsong and moves into a quiet guitar section. The lyrics when they come are a strange journey (supposedly a drug experience) from a natural but eerie scene of greenery and water to the sun, the moon, and Cirrus Minor. It ends with a haunting organ piece.
One line in the lyrics, 'A thousand miles of moonlight later', is from Li He's poem 'On the Frontier'.
In the introduction to the Poems of the Late T'ang, A. C. Graham takes this poem as example of the relative ease with which concrete images in Chinese can be transferred into English.
Who was Li He / Li Ho?
ON THE FRONTIER
A Tartar horn tugs at the north wind,
Thistle Gate shines whiter than the stream.
The sky swallows the road to Kokonor.
On the Great Wall, a thousand miles of moonlight.
The dew comes down, the banners drizzle,
Cold bronze rings the watches of the night.
The nomads' armour meshes serpents' scales.
Horses neigh, Evergreen Mound's champed white.
In the still of autumn see the Pleiades.
Far out on the sands, danger in the furze.
North of their tents is surely the sky's end
Where the sound of the river streams beyond the border.
|ON THE FRONTIER||塞下曲
sài xià qǔ
frontier under (=under the frontier) song
|A Tartar horn tugs at the north wind,||胡角引北風
hú jiǎo yǐn běi fēng
northern-barbarian horn pull north wind
|Thistle Gate shines whiter than the stream.||薊門白於水
jìmén bái yú shuǐ
thistle gate white than water
|The sky swallows the road to Kokonor.||天含青海道
tiān hán Qīnghǎi dào
sky hold-in-mouth Qinghai road
|On the Great Wall, a thousand miles of moonlight.||城頭月千里
chéng toú yuè qiān lǐ
wall top moon thousand mile
|The dew comes down, the banners drizzle,||露下旗濛濛
lù xià qí méngméng
dew come-down flag drizzle
|Cold bronze rings the watches of the night.||寒金鳴夜刻
hán jīn míng yè kè cold metal sound night watch
|The nomads' armour meshes serpents' scales.||蕃甲鎖蛇鱗
fān jiǎ suǒ shé lín
barbarian armour lock snake scale
|Horses neigh, Evergreen Mound's champed white.||馬嘶青塚白
mǎ sī qīng zhǒng bái
horse neigh green grave-mound white
|In the still of autumn see the Pleiades.||秋靜見旄頭
qiū jìng jiàn máotóu
autumn quiet see yak-tail-flag top
|Far out on the sands, danger in the furze.||沙遠席羈愁
shā yuǎn xí jī chóu
sand far mat/seat bridle anxious
|North of their tents is surely the sky's end||帳北天應盡
zhàng běi tiān yīng jìn
tent north sky must end
|Where the sound of the river streams beyond the border.||河聲出塞流
hé shēng chū sài liú
river sound issue frontier flow
The Thistle Gate is a reference to the 薊 Jì area, which in ancient times was situated in northern Hebei, north of present-day Beijing. (In fact, modern Beijing has a place name in the north west of the city called 薊門 Jìmén 'Thistle Gate').
The 旄 máo refers to yak-tail, and also to a kind of ancient flag, decorated with yak tail at the top. However, 旄頭 máotóu (mao head) actually referred to the Pleiades. The modern name is 昴 mǎo. As Graham points out, the flickering of the Pleiades was an omen of invasion by the northern barbarians.
The eleventh line is subject to a number of interpretations. Graham has chosen an interpretation which analyses 席羈 xíjī ('seat bridle') as a type of plant.