Allusions to Classical Chinese Poetry in Pink Floyd

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Li Shangyin

One inch of love is an inch of ashes

It is one of Li Shangyin's untitled poems that provided Roger Waters with one of his most haunting and disturbing lines: 'One inch of love is one inch of shadow'.

Li Shangyin's poem is a beautiful verse dealing with the disappointment of love, but beneath the surface beauty lie strong intimations of an illicit love affair.

Who was Li Shangyin?

UNTITLED POEM (ii)

The east wind sighs, the fine rains come:
Beyond the pool of water-lilies, the noise of faint thunder.
A gold toad gnaws the lock. Open it, burn the incense.
A tiger of jade pulls the rope. Draw from the well and escape.
Chia's daughter peeped through the screen when Han the clerk was young,
The goddess of the River left her pillow for the great Prince of Wei.
Never let your heart open with the spring flowers:
One inch of love is an inch of ashes.

 

UNTITLED POEM (ii) 無題 其二
wú tí qí èr
No title no. 2
The east wind sighs, the fine rains come: 颯颯東風細雨來
sà sà dōng fēng xì yǔ lái

'sa' 'sa' (sound) east wind, fine rain come

Beyond the pool of water-lilies, the noise of faint thunder.

芙蓉塘外有輕雷
fúróng táng wài yǒu qīng léi
lotus pool outside there-is light thunder
A gold toad gnaws the lock. Open it, burn the incense. 金蟾嚙鎖燒香入
jīn chán niè suǒ shāo xiāng rù

gold toad gnaw lock, burn incense enter
A tiger of jade pulls the rope. Draw from the well and escape. 玉虎牽絲汲井回
yù hǔ qiān sī jí jǐng huí
jade tiger pull rope draw well return
Chia's daughter peeped through the screen when Han the clerk was young, 賈氏窺簾韓掾少
Jiǎ shì kuī lián Hán yuàn shào
Jia Miss peep blind, Han clerk young
The goddess of the River left her pillow for the great Prince of Wei. 宓妃留枕魏王才
Mì fēi liú zhěn Wèi wáng cái
Mi princess leave pillow Wei king talented
Never let your heart open with the spring flowers: 春心莫共花爭發
chūn xīn mò gòng huā zhēng fā
spring heart don't with flower strive open
One inch of love is an inch of ashes. 一寸相思一寸灰
yī cùn xiāng-sī yī cùn huī
one inch emotion one inch ash

 

The poem is simple enough on the surface, but as Li Shangyin was one of the most allusive of poets, his poems are amenable to many interpretations.

Roger Waters took the last line of this poem for his song, but changed the words from 'one inch of love is an inch of ashes' to 'one inch of love is one inch of shadow'. This is a very interesting change that I discuss in the section Significance of the Allusions'.

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