Weeping Over a Poem Written at Night From the opera Phoenix Hairpin

Angela Keung

This is an aria from a full opera built upon the well-known love story of the famous poet Luk Yau (Lu You 陸游; 1125–1209) of the Song dynasty when it was being evaded by foreign tribes in the North.

Luk Yau grew up with his cousin Tong Yuen (Tang Wan唐琬), who was quiet but loved literature. They fell deeply in love and were happily married when he was 20. They had no children, so his mother forced them to divorce so that Luk will concentrate on studying to fulfill his aspiration of saving the Song dynasty. Tong tries to drown herself but is saved by a nobleman who later marries her while Luk has married a woman called Chun Ngor.

Eight years after their divorce, Luk passes by the Shen Garden (沈園) one spring day and by chance encounters Tong and her husband. When he sees the regrets and love in her eyes, he writes a poem on the wall before leaving to defend his country in the North. That is the famous Phoenix Hairpin poem (Chai Tou Feng, 釵頭鳳), which makes Shen Garden famous.

When Tong finds Luks poem in the garden, she immediately writes one in the same form in response. She passes away eight years later. Luk lives to an old age still deeply in love with Tong. At age 85, he writes another poem called “Shen's Garden Revisited” to commemorate Tong. This song depicts Tong’s sorrows on reading a poem by Luk.