The King covered his face, unable to save her
When he turned his head, he saw blood and tears combining and flowing away.
The yellow dust scattered sadly in the breeze.
The walkways in the clouds wind around and climb up through Jiange.
Or "the passes of Mount Jian," a border gate in modern Sichuan. The
next few lines continue to describe the King's journey home.
There were few people going through the foot of Mount Emei.
Both SKT and the wikisource point out that Emei isn't on Xuanzong's
route but it was a common place in poetry and it was a famous part of
The banners had no light and the sun was pale.
- In other words the sky was cloudy so the sun couldn't illuminate the King's banners.
The water of the Shu rivers was blue, and the Shu mountains were green.
- 青 here refers to the lush plant growth, so it's not "blue".
The King's feelings morning and night
This is another line where I don't fully understand the grammar of the
original. SKT indicates this line means "(But in contrast to the
lushness of the mountains and river,) the King's felt downcast because
he thought about her morning and night." Wikisource has "Our liege lord
thought about her night and day." It seems more to me like this should
lead into the next lines, describing the King's 情.
Watching the moon in his temporary dwelling reflected the pain of his heart.
Hearing bells on a rainy night was a sound of deep sorrow.
- SKT emends 鈴 to 猿, suggesting this is based on a 故事 about a mother monkey crying for her children.
The heavens turned and the sun moved, and the Emperor's chariot returned.
This is a poetic way of saying the rebellion ended. I believe that
Xuanzong had abdicated by this point and was a retired Emperor.
When he reached this place he hesitated and was unable to depart.
- "This place" is Mawei, where Yang Guifei was killed.
In the mud and dirt at the base of Mawei's slopes,
He did not see her jeweled face, but only the place where she uselessly died.
- wikisource suggests that 玉 here is a reference to Guifei's birth name 玉環, although 玉 is a fairly conventional symbol of beauty.
The King and his ministers looked at each other, and they all soaked their clothes [with tears].
They turned towards the Eastern gate of the capital, and let their horses make their way home.
When they returned, the ponds and gardens were just like before.
The lotuses of Taiye and the willows of Weiyang.
- Weiyang palace
was a Han Dynasty location, but in the Tang dynasty a pond had been
built in the palace called Weiyang. Wikisource says that the Taiye
ponds were constructed by Emperor Wu, making this yet another reference
to him. Incidentally, this line is quoted verbatim in "Kiritsubo"; the only direct quote of the poem.
The lotuses were like her face, and the willows were like her eyebrows.
Faced with this, how could the King not cry?