The night turns around
The first line of 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' carries the interesting conceit of the night 'turning round':
Little by little the night turns around
This line was taken from one of Li Shangyin's untitled poems, the third in a group of four. The poem runs:
Who was Li Shangyin?
UNTITLED POEM (iii)
Bite back passion. Spring now sets.
Watch little by little the night turn around.
Echoes in the house; want to go up, dare not.
A glow behind the screen; wish to go through, cannot.
It would hurt too much, the swallow on a hairpin;
Truly shame me, the phoenix on a mirror.
On the road back, sunrise over Heng-t'ang.
The blossoming of the morning-star shines farewell on the jewelled saddle.
|UNTITLED POEM (iii)||無題 其三
wú tí qí sān
No title no. 3
|Bite back passion. Spring now sets.||含情春晼晚
hán qíng chūn wǎn wǎn
hold-in-mouth passion spring sun-set
|Watch little by little the night turn around.||暫見夜闌干
zhàn jiàn yè lán gān
gradually see night across/criss-cross
|Echoes in the house; want to go up, dare not.||樓響將登怯
lóu xiǎng jiāng dēng qiè
house sound will climb timid
|A glow behind the screen; wish to go through, cannot.||簾烘欲過難
lián hōng yù guò nán
screen glow want go-across difficult
|It would hurt too much, the swallow on a hairpin;||多羞釵上燕
duō xiū chāi shàng yàn
much shame hairpin-on swallow (=swallow on hairpin)
|Truly shame me, the phoenix on a mirror.||真愧鏡中鸞
zhēn kuì jìng zhōng luán
true ashamed mirror-inside phoenix (=phoenix in mirror)
|On the road back, sunrise over Heng-t'ang.||歸去橫塘曉
guī qù Héngtáng xiǎo
return go Hengtang dawn
|The blossoming of the morning-star shines farewell on the jewelled saddle.||華星送寶鞍
huá xīng sòng bǎo ān
flower star send-off jewel saddle
The poem appears to refer to a man, seized with the passion of spring at the close of day, who wishes to visit his beloved but is unable to because of the presence of people. The sounds in the house are the voices of people, the glow behind the screen is a light suggesting a gathering of people.
It has been suggested that the lines about the swallow on a hairpin and the phoenix on a mirror express envy at these two items, which are able to remain with the beloved while the lover cannot.
Hengtang was a pleasure quarters ('red-light district').
The key line about the night turning around appears to be a rather free rendition of the Chinese. In translating it, Professor Graham may have been unconsciously influenced by his translation of a line in another poem from Poems of the Late T'ang by Li He entitled 'Up in Heaven'.