Inspiration: Tang Dynasty Poetry

Someone recently asked where do you get your ideas. It’s one of those questions that changes every time I answer it, but currently the answer is that I do historical research and pray that some idea starts to form. It’s the one thing I envy other writers: their surplus of ideas and ability to plot in series. I also read translations of Tang Dynasty poetry to get a feel for how the use of language and word choice when interpreted in English. For my current WIP, the seed of the idea began with this Tang Dynasty poem:

Observing the Sword Dance Performed by a Disciple of Madam Gongsun

by Du Fu (712 – 770 AD)

Years ago there was a beautiful woman called Madam Gongsun.
When she performed the Sword Dance,
She would cause a sensation throughout China.
The audience seats would be elevated like mountains.
They were amazed by the flashes of reflected sword light accompanied by her agile movements.
Even heaven and earth moved in tuned with her rhythm.
The sword flashed like Yi’s arrows that shot down the nine suns.
She moved quickly and spiritedly like the dragon ridden by gods.
When her dance began, her movement was rapid and fierce like furious thunder shaking heaven and earth.
When her dance ended, her swords slowed down
Invoking thoughts of a mighty river or ocean regaining its shiny reflection.
Now her red lips and ornamental sleeves are gone.
After her death her disciple carries on her legacy.
In Bai-di City, the beautiful woman from Lin-ying City
Gracefully performed the Sword Dance in high spirits.
After I learned that she studied dance under the tutelage of Madam Gongsun,
The dance scene brought back my memory.
I lament that time ruthlessly replaces old with new.
Among eight thousand courtesans in the palace during Emperor Xuanzong’s reign
Madam Gongsun was the best at performing the Sword Dance.
Fifty years has passed away like the turn of a page.
The chaos resulting from rebellions seriously depleted the strength of the Tang dynasty.
The students in the Royal Music Institute scattered like dust.
All that remains of the Royal Music is a female dancer’s swords reflecting the cold sun.
Every tree in front of Emperor Xuanzong’s Mausoleum has grown so large
That it requires a person’s two arms to embrace it.
Ju-tang-shi-cheng City looks bleak and desolate as its grass withers.
As grand banquets and fast flute music ended,
Joy passed its zenith, grief took over, and the moon rose in the east.
I, an old man, am unaware of my destination.
My soles have become thickly callused
As I drift aimlessly on the bare mountain with a heavy heart.


Translation from this website: