情歌 (qínggē), “Love Song,” by Malaysian singer Fish Leong 梁靜茹, is a song about lovers and the memory of love, but not like you’d expect. It’s a song about love growing distant with the passing of time, but cherished all the same. In the end, it’s about being able to let go.
Literary references are peppered throughout, making this song proceed via images rather than words. Showing, not telling. For instance, there’s a reference to the idiom 白云苍狗 (báiyún cāng gǒu) in the first stanza, in the line, “青春的上游，白云飞走，苍狗与海鸥” (qīngchūn de shàngyóu, báiyún fēi zǒu, cāng gǒu yǔ hǎi’ōu) — Upstream of spring, white clouds fly, [shaped like] dogs and seagulls. It’s a reference to the poem 可叹 (kětàn — “Sigh”), written by the great Late Tang poet Du Fu 杜甫: “天上浮云似白衣，斯须改变如苍狗” (tiānshàng fúyún shì báiyī, sī xū gǎibiàn rú cāng gǒu) — Drifting clouds in the sky like white shirts, will shortly change into gray dogs. Just as clouds shape change, so, too, does all life, as all is impermanent and unpredictable.
There is another reference to a “red bean” (红豆 hóngdòu), which comes from a legend: In ancient times, there was a woman whose husband died on the frontier; she cried herself to death under a tree and turned into a red bean, and as a result, people sometimes call red beans “love beans” (相思豆 xiāngsī dòu). It is often used in classical poetry to imply yearning or lovesickness. Leong uses it cleverly in the line “一整个宇宙 换一颗红豆” (yī zhěnggè yǔzhòu huàn yī kē hóngdòu) — An entire universe for one red bean.
Another line in this song compares memory with a trapped beast that grows tame due to lonesomeness. The implication: Sometimes the merciful thing to do is to give the beast its freedom.
I love this song mostly because of these references, which convey emotions through implication. It’s poetic. Toward the end, Leong sings about the need to say goodbye even though embers still burn hot. Her final stanza:
That’s all right, I have my next love song
Life is just like rivers in a quiet embrace
Eternal, as long as the world may last.