Historical background: late in the 40-odd year riegn of Tang Emperor Xuanzong
, a Turkish-born general named An Lushan
became a favorite of both the emperor and his beautiful concubine, Yang Guifei
. As the result of political in-fighting with her cousin, the chancellor, An Lushan revolted
in 755 and the next year captured the capital of Chang'an (in modern Shaanxi province). As the emperor fled over mountains to Sichuan, his guardsmen blamed the Yang family for the uprising and forced him to have Yang Guifei executed.
Needless to say, this is a Highly Romantic (and romaticized) event.
In 806, Bai Juyi wrote this poem about the affair. The translation below by Witter Bynner (1929) calls it "A Song of Unending Sorrow," but is more commonly known in English as "Song of Everlasting Regret."
China's Emperor, craving beauty that might shake an empire,
Was on the throne for many years, searching, never finding,
Till a little child of the Yang clan, hardly even grown,
Bred in an inner chamber, with no one knowing her,
But with graces granted by heaven and not to be concealed,
At last one day was chosen for the imperial household.
If she but turned her head and smiled, there were cast a hundred spells,
And the powder and paint of the Six Palaces faded into nothing.
...It was early spring. They bathed her in the FlowerPure Pool,
Which warmed and smoothed the creamy-tinted crystal of her skin,
And, because of her languor, a maid was lifting her
When first the Emperor noticed her and chose her for his bride.
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;
But nights of spring were short and the sun arose too soon,
And the Emperor, from that time forth, forsook his early hearings
And lavished all his time on her with feasts and revelry,
His mistress of the spring, his despot of the night.
There were other ladies in his court, three thousand of rare beauty,
But his favours to three thousand were concentered in one body.
By the time she was dressed in her Golden Chamber, it would be almost evening;
And when tables were cleared in the Tower of Jade, she would loiter, slow with wine.
Her sisters and her brothers all were given titles;
And, because she so illumined and glorified her clan,
She brought to every father, every mother through the empire,
Happiness when a girl was born rather than a boy.
...High rose Li Palace, entering blue clouds,
And far and wide the breezes carried magical notes
Of soft song and slow dance, of string and bamboo music.
The Emperor's eyes could never gaze on her enough--( Till war-drums, booming from Yuyang, shocked the whole earth )( Chinese text )
See also this line-by-line prose version
from Wikimedia. Wengdu has a version
with automatic dictionary lookups of the modern meaning of each character.