One of the great love stories and tragedies of all times, and a true story, set in imperishable verse by some of the greatest poets of all time.

Emperor Xuanzong of China had many concubines, but surpassing them all was Lady Yang, born in 713. "If she but turned her head and smiled, there were cast a hundred spells." He became absorbed in her to the exclusion of all others, and of affairs of state. "The cloud of her hair, petal of her cheek, gold ripples of her crown when she moved, were sheltered on spring evenings by warm hibiscus-curtains." Her two lovely sisters Guo Guo and Qin Guo were brought to the court and ennobled, and her brother Yang Guozhong was made prime minister, though others said that he was their lover.

A Song of Pure Happiness
by Li Bo

Her robe is a cloud, her face a flower;
Her balcony, glimmering with the bright spring dew,
Is either the tip of earth's Jade Mountain
Or a moon-edged roof of paradise.

There's a perfume stealing moist from a shaft of red blossom,
And a mist, through the heart, from the magical Hill of Wu--
The palaces of China have never known such beauty--
Not even Flying Swallow with all her glittering garments.

Lovely now together, his lady and his flowers
Lighten for ever the Emperor's eye,
As he listens to the sighing of the far spring wind
Where she leans on a railing in the Aloe Pavilion.

There was a Turkic general named An Lushan, whom Lady Yang adopted as her son. It was rumoured they had also become lovers. But in 756 the exiled An Lushan led a revolt against Emperor Xuanzong, driving him from the Tang capital Chang'an. The Emperor's bodyguards blamed Lady Yang and her brother for their predicament.

from A Song of Unending Sorrow
by Bo Juyi

But thirty miles from the capital, beyond the western gate,
The men of the army stopped, not one of them would stir
Till under their horses' hoofs they might trample those moth-eyebrows...
Flowery hairpins fell to the ground, no one picked them up,
And a green and white jade hair-tassel and a yellow-gold hair-bird.
The Emperor could not save her, he could only cover his face.
And later when he turned to look, the place of blood and tears
Was hidden in a yellow dust blown by a cold wind.

Wade-Giles forms: Lady Yang Kuêi-fêi, Emperor Hsüan-tsung, poets Li Po and Po Chü-yi.

Quotes within the text are also from Bo Juyi's "A Song of Unending Sorrow", a long poem going on to tell how the former emperor sought her in the spirit world.

Translations by Witter Bynner from The Jade Mountain, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1929 (1964).

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