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Friends, let us set out together on a journey to the fabled lands of the silk road, the spice islands and the camel caravans laden with salt on the great Sahara crossing. To the lands of enchantment and the Arabian nights. The great cities of Marrakesh, Timbuktu, Cairo, Istanbul, Damascus, Samarkand, Tashkent, Bukhara, Isfahan, Kashgar, Chang’an (with its Terracotta warriors) and the seats of the Han dynasty; Zanzibar, ancient Persia, Cochin and Kerala, the Bay of Bengal, the Indian ocean, Tibet, China, and on with the nomads in remote Mongolia, then South and farther still to Sumatra, Java, the tropical lands of fire, where man-eating dragons lurk at the foot of volcanoes, on to the lotus blossom islands in silver moonbeam seas, unto the very edge of the world…
Mystical city of spices and caravans,
Carpets and camels and minarets of gold;
Delirious your dancers and noble your stallions,
In a night of hot fever your secrets are told.
Mysterious city of souks and strange perfumes,
Glistening desert ’neath a crescent of moon;
Skilled your snake-charmers and vivid your costumes,
Long in the memory though left far too soon.
China’s Emperor yearning, for beauty that shakes a kingdom,
Reigned for many years, searching but not finding,
Until a child of the Yang, hardly yet grown,
Raised in the inner chamber, unseen by anybody,
But with heavenly graces that could not be hidden,
Was chosen one day for the Imperial household.
If she turned her head and smiled she cast a deep spell,
Beauties of Six Palaces vanished into nothing.
Hair’s cloud, pale skin, shimmer of gold moving,
Flowered curtains protected on cool spring evenings.
Those nights were too short. That sun too quick in rising.
The emperor neglected the world from that moment,
Lavished his time on her in endless enjoyment.
She was his springtime mistress, and his midnight tyrant.
Though there were three thousand ladies all of great beauty,
All his gifts were devoted to one person.
Li Palace rose high in the clouds.
The winds carried soft magic notes,
Songs and graceful dances, string and pipe music.
He could never stop himself from gazing at her.
As Shu waters flow green, Shu mountains show blue,
His majesty’s love remained, deeper than the new.
White moon of loneliness, cold moon of exile.
Bell-chimes in evening rain were bronze-edged heartbeats.
So when the dragon-car turned again northwards
The Emperor clung to Ma-Wei’s dust, never desiring
To leave that place of memories and heartbreak.
Where is the white jade in heaven and earth’s turning?
Lakes and gardens are still as they have been,
T’ai-yi’s hibiscus, Wei-yang’s willows.
A flower-petal was her face, a willow-leaf her eyebrow,
How could it not be grief just to see them?
Plum and pear blossoms blown on spring winds
Maple trees ruined in rains of autumn.
Palaces neglected, filled with weeds and grasses,
Mounds of red leaves spilled on unswept stairways.
She left her dreams, rose from her pillow,
Opened mica blind and crystal screen,
Hastening, unfastened, clouded hair hanging,
Her light cap unpinned, ran along the pavement.
A breeze in her gauze, flowing with her movement,
As if she danced ‘Feathered Coat and Rainbow Skirt’.
So delicate her jade face, drowned with tears of sadness,
Like a spray of pear blossoms, veiled with springtime rain.
(Po Chu-i, 772-846 a.d.,The Song of Everlasting Sorrow)- see Mizoguchi’s film Yang Kwei Fei, clip above
Not on mubi:
Ca Bau Kan (Di Nata)
As i lay wrapped in the scent of musk and cinnamon and lulled by the sound of the ocean, she came to me; sleek as a gazelle, softer than the finest silk at Samarkand, her dark eyes deeper than the pools of Ashkazar- Shahrzad!
To finish off with a little magic, here we have Alim Khan, Emir of Bukhara in beautiful colour, 1911Read less