"Painting the Portrait" (Meio Zong) from The Lute Song

Chao Wu Nian: Liang Guying

(Aria - Tune Title "San Xian Chao")
My father- and mother-in-law had passed away,
Their dear presence I miss everyday.
I dream of their faces; but dreams are fleeting.
My efforts to draw their images are utterly failing.
Their images linger in my mind - bringing forth tears even before I try to paint.
My drawing shows not the sadness in their hearts;
Nor the hunger in their guts?
How could I paint the longing in their eyes
--a longing for their errant son?
I could only draw them with thinning hair,
in clothing shabby with tear.
If I dress them up with nice air.
That, alas, would distort the true affair.

(Continues Aria "San Xian Chao")
I could draw you with plumb features.
But in reality you are famished.
I tried to paint your faces at repose.
Yet they came out deeply furrowed.
If I draw the expression that you have taken,
deeper in grief will I be stricken.
I simply cannot bring myself to paint happy faces.

(Recitative)
Alas, it is not that I am incapable
Since I married into this family 
(Continues "San Xian Chao")
I have seen you happy only for two months.
The rest of the time is filled with sorrow.
The memory that I have retained is of old-age and frailness.
Were their offspring here,
he would have difficulty to identify them
with his parents of days long ago.
For my husband's parents of days of old,
resemble not my in-laws of recent time.
My parents-in-law of late!

(Recitative)
I have finished the portraits.
My dear mother- and father-in-law.
Your daughter-in-law will start the journey today.
I should prepare some offering to you
But I am utterly out of means.
I can only tender a single burning incense.
I hope you do give me your blessing.
Ah! How I have mistaken!

(Continues "San Xian Chao")
Care of their resting place will hardly be taken,
how can they be able to render me any blessing?
After my departure, I am afraid this place will be deserted.
Who is going to keep it clean, to give offerings,
and to honor you with seasonal rites?
My in-laws had to endure hunger and cold while they lived.
They will suffer further from neglect after they die!

(Recitative)
After this offering,
I will bid goodbye to Grand Uncle Chang before I embark on my campaign.
I should prepare some offering to you
But I am utterly out of means.
I can only tender a single burning incense.
I hope you do give me your blessing.
Ah! How I have mistaken!

(Continues "San Xian Chao")
Care of their resting place will hardly be taken,
how can they be able to render me any blessing?
After my departure, I am afraid this place will be deserted.
Who is going to keep it clean, to give offerings,
and to honor you with seasonal rites?
My in-laws had to endure hunger and cold while they lived.
They will suffer further from neglect after they die!

(Recitative)
After this offering,
I will bid goodbye to Grand Uncle Chang before I embark on my campaign.

--Translation by T. K. Chu