Dreaming Thee in the Rain
In the 1930s, China, there was a young man who was both timid and romantic in love. He was too shy to say hello to his sweetheart when he encountered her in the street, and he was so romantic that he would compose a love letter to her every two or three days.
His name is Zhu Shenghao, renowned for his Chinese translation of William Shakespeare’s complete works, as well as his more than 540 love letters.
In 1942, after nine long years of unrequited love, he finally married Song Qingru, the woman of his heart. The bride was 31 and the groom was 30, well above the average marrying age at that time. Xia Chengtao, a famous poet, presented them a wedding gift of his own calligraphy, written thus, “A genius and a beauty’s hands bound in matrimony, a loving couple comes down to the mundane world.”
Before the marriage, Zhu had courted Song but she refused. She believed that marriage would be the killer of romance, and said, “I am happy to be with you, but marriage is not necessary. We need to think it over before the final step.” Song’s careful consideration was the sensible thing to do, and Zhu didn’t try to force the issue.
Song had her reasons for feeling hesitant. In the Republican era, many talented and charismatic young men were easily lost in romantic love. It was lucky for Song, however, that her courter understood and respected her.
After marriage, they became a happy couple. Zhu devoted himself to the translation of Shakespeare’s works, while Song became a hard-working housewife who managed to supplement their livelihood by earning extra money. Now the perfect couple had to go about the arduous task of earning enough money just for three square meals a day.
First in 1937 and then in 1941, Zhu’s handwritten translations were destroyed twice in the AntiJapanese war. To escape from the Japanese army, the couple went to Song’s old home in Changshu. Four Hundred Famous Ci Poems of Tang and Song Dynasties together, as ancient poetry was their mutual interest. Soon thereafter, Changshu was occupied by the Japanese. As a renowned intellectual, Zhu was in danger of being arrested. He used a pseudonym and stayed at home all day. In January, 1943, they had to leave for Zhu’s old home in Jiaxing, carrying the works of Shakespeare with them.
A beech- wood desk, an oldstyle armchair, an oil lamp, an old pen, the English edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and two dictionaries were all he needed for the translation work.
When not translating, Song and Zhu also enjoyed the sweet moments in their marriage life. Once when Song went alone to visit her parents, Zhu waited out in the rain for her return.
He stood beneath a green plum tree by the door of their house, picking up a fallen leaf and writing a poem for her. Upon Song’s return, he recited following poetic lines for her.
Upon hearing the poem, Song was moved to tears.
Unfortunately, the heavy work-load of translation undermined Zhu’s health. He seldom left his home, or even his room. One day while translating
HenryIV , he suddenly felt a sharp pain between his ribs, and a spasm followed. Zhu was diagnosed with severe tuberculosis and complications resulting from the disease. In his last letter, he told his brother, “I recently finally finished the translation of Henry IV. I feel utterly fatigued as a result of being hunched over a desk day and night. I have permanent dyspepsia, and a short walk to the North Gate is like scaling Mr. Everest.”
In the end of November 1944, Zhu was on his last legs. Permanently bed-ridden, he was almost unable to utter a word, much less to read a book.
He managed to tell Song that he felt so regretful about the unfinished five and a half historic plays, and that, had he foreseen his serious illness, he would have fought with all his might to finish them.
Zhu had invited Song to translate Shakespeare together, but Song was afraid that she wouldn’t be much of a collaborator. She helped her husband as a loyal reader and a responsible reviewer.
“Qingru, it’s my time to go,” murmured Zhu on the afternoon of December 26, 1944. He left behind his beloved wife and son, and his unfinished translation work.
S o n g Qi n g r u w a s 3 3 , a n d their son was 13 months old. The marriage lasted for only two years.
She had been willing to play a supporting role to her husband and family, but decided to make it on her own. The 37 plays, 1.8 million words of Zhu’s translation were not published yet. Their infant son needed to be fed. She had to pull herself together. She knew she needed to press on for herself, and for her beloved man.
She was determined to engage herself in two pursuits in the rest of her life— getting her husband’s unfinished
Iftherain’spitter-patteris adreamwebothshare, willwelosesleeptogether orseeeachotherthere?
translations published and taking good care of their child. The sceneries of life are so splendid, and her husband regretfully missed the best spots. She would view all of them, keep them in her mind, and then, share with him about them in their eternal silence.
She put all her efforts into the translations. What we know today is that Zhu’s translation works were published a few years after his death.
One night insomnia set in, she put on her dress, walked to the plum tree and saw a vision of her husband when he was that strapping young man in Hangchow University. He extended his arms beaconing her into his warm embrace; with tears streaming down her face, she held him tightly. Suddenly she woke to find herself in her bed. It turned out it was a dream and that her man was really gone.
After age 35, Song Qingru went downhill quickly. Her photos before and after Zhu’s death clearly showed an attractive young girl full of vigor who was rapidly turning into a haggard old biddy.
In 1997, 53 years after their separation, Song passed away and
was finally reunited with her true love in heaven. “The pitter- patter of the rain in dreams we share, the pitter-patter of the rain in sleeplessness we share.” Only by mutual inspiration can we console each other, like the comet’s glory glistening our tired dreams, though our bodies may part, our hearts will be together forever. I shall love thee till the end of time. ( From TheRepublicofChina intheLoveLetters , Tuanjie Press. Translation: Wang Xiaoke)