The full poem is as follows:






I was discussing this with a friend who speaks Chinese, and they translated this line:


as "Birds and flowers cry and laugh". Their father translated it as something like "Birds laugh and cry", saying that 鶯花 refers to just a bird, a kind of hummingbird based on what he said. My friend noted that 又, in modern Chinese, makes it likely that the action(s) is/are being ascribed either collectively to two things (birds and flowers) or to one thing (hummingbirds).

However, Chloe Garcia Roberts, in her book of translations of Li Shangyin, translates the line as:

The orioles quaver / The flowers laugh

Without getting into the lexical choices here, on what basis does she ascribe 啼 to the bird and 笑 to the flowers? Is this a type of construction specific to poetic voice, to the Tang era, or something else? Or is it just a poetic interpretive choice on the basis of conceptual parallelism: (noun1 noun2 verb1 verb2)=(noun1 verb1)(noun2 verb2). Li Shangyin lived from 813–858, so I assume there has been a lot of time for things to change or have specific uses.

Any insight helps even if it isn't a full answer. Thanks!

  • Unless there is evidence of a huge change in the ecology of China (or indeed Li Shangyin's travels) since the late Tang, 鶯 cannot refer to the hummingbird of the biological family Trochilidae. In modern Chinese, it refers to various Old world passerines, e.g. orioles, nightingales, typical warblers.
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 21:45

3 Answers 3


"對稱", "比喻" and "联想" are technics commonly used in poems or poetries.

We know there is no flower named "鶯花", thus, it must represent 鶯(oriole) and 花(flower). Now, through "對稱", it is obvious how to associate 鶯 and 花 with the respective words 啼(twitter/chirp) and 笑(laugh) - "鶯啼" and "花笑". Note that flower is often used to describe young lady, such as "花容" describes the young woman's facial figure (using 比喻), which is capable of laughing and smiling (through 联想).

IMO, this poem can be rewritten and interpreted as:

又笑, 畢竟是春. - (Outdoor), the oriole is twittering/chirping, and the flower is blooming, after all, who (鶯 and 花) is winning out in representing the coming of spring?

  • Thanks for the explanation! So, you are saying that through parallelism and due to the verbs and the things they associate with, we would understand "Orioles flowers caw and laugh" as (orioles caw) and (flowers laugh), due to their parallel structure. Are there any situations where you wouldn't do this? For example, are there any contexts where 鶯花啼又笑 would mean "(orioles and flowers) cry and laugh", but the context of the poem here makes it not a valid reading? Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 19:34
  • "orioles and flowers cry and laugh" - 鶯花啼又笑, but it violates the style of the poem. Also, due to the fact that a bird can't laugh/smile, you would still understand it as 鶯啼花笑. Why 花笑 then? Because 花 is traditionally humanized as the young woman and possesses the same traits - laugh and beauty. Here "association(联想)" is at work :)
    – r13
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 20:14
  • I think the sentence "鶯花啼笑" can mean "orioles and flowers cry and laugh (together)", but it is not a sentence that makes sense as a bird can't laugh and flower won't caw.
    – r13
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 21:27

The orioles quaver / The flowers laugh

this translation is very good 😸


considering the characters “獨” & “春”; i would, read the verse as:

[i saw that there’re] orioles chirp [amongst those] blossoming flowers

the author woke up alone (獨起人), in a morning in spring, found that all living beings did their best for mating. so, he exclaimed that “after all, this spring is for whom? (畢竟是誰春)[while i’m alone!]

have fun :)


"The orioles quaver / The flowers laugh" is a good translation, though I would put it as "The orioles crow (amid) The flowers' laughter" because the passage, I believe, is to create the poetic imagery of orioles alighting on tree branches loaded with Spring blossoms broadly blooming as though in a chorus of laughter, and burst out in songs.

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