In China, tree peonies have been objects of aesthetic fascination since at least the Sui Dynasty (589-618 CE). Painters and poets have worked to capture the ephemeral beauty of the blossoms. Tree peonies are also used to evoke female nature, love, prosperity and status. To help lighten the cold, dark days of winter, we find ourselves returning to some of our favorite peony poems of Chinese antiquity. Enjoy!
Spring River Flowers Moon Night
The river is smooth and calm this evening,
The peony flowers bloom.
The moon floats on the current.
The tide carries the stars.
— Qian Qi (Tang Dyanasty)
Visit to the Hermit Chui
Moss covered paths between scarlet peonies,
Pale jade mountains fill your rustic windows.
I envy you, drunk with flowers;
Butterflies swirling in your dreams.
— Qian Qi (Tang Dynasty)
The Blossoms of Luoyang
My lover is like the tree peony of Luoyang,
I, unworthy, like the common willows of Wu Chang.
Both places love the spring wind.
When shall we hold each others hands again?
Incessant the buzzing of insects beyond the orchard curtain
The moom flings slanting shadows from the pepper tree across the courtyard.
Pity the girl of the flowery house, who is not equal to the blossoms of Luoyang.
— Ting Liunang (Tang Dynasty)
Peonies at Jixing Temple
Springtime radiance, gradually, gradually where does it go?
Again before a wine jar, we take up a goblet.
All day we’ve questioned the flowers, but the flowers do not speak.
For whom do they shed their petals and leaves, for whom do they bloom?
–Emperor Yang (Sui Dynasty)
Embroidered garden, everywhere there, fettered with famous flowers;
My steps are blocked by the red tiers of budding crimson
I ponder on your favors, which resemble the colors of springtime-
Upon tree peony branches, indeed their glory’s profuse.
–Lu Shusheng (Ming Dynasty)
The Red Peony
Voluptuous green so leisurely and tranquil
and robe of red now light, now dark
heart of the flower sadness about to break
but how could we know this from such spring colors.
–Wang Wei (Tang Dynasty)
Drinking with Friends Amongst the Blooming Peonies
We had a drinking party to admire the peonies.
I drank cup after cup till I was drunk.
Then to my shame I heard the flowers whisper,
“What are we doing, blooming for these old alcoholics?”
–Ling Huchu (Tang Dynasty)
Matching Premier Linghu’s “Taking Leave of the Peonies”
In my official mansion, a balustrade of flowers.
But when it’s time for them to bloom, I’m always away from home!
Do not say the Twin Capitals are not far distant parted.
The springtime brilliance beyond my gate is the very abyss of Heaven.
–Liu Yushi (Tang Dynasty)