A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
The fragrance of red lotuses has faded.
Autumn settles at my door.
I loosen my robe and drift in an orchid boat.
Someone sent me love notes in the clouds,
in lines of returning geese,
in moonlight flooding the pavilion.
Flowers fade alone. Rivers flow alone.
Only our longing is shared.
Sadness, grief, and worry
grow heavy in my eyes,
we are so long apart—
and settle in the bottom of my heart.
— Li Ch’ing-chao
Copyright 2017 Sam Hamill. From Crossing the Yellow River: Three Hundred Poems from the Chinese translated by Sam Hamill, published by Tiger Bark Press.
Translator’s note: Li Ch’ing-chao (1084?-ca. 1151) is certainly one of China’s greatest poets, a genius of the tz’u, one of the most influential critics of her age, and with her husband, compiler of an immense catalogue of stone and bronze vessels. The death of her husband at an early age was emotionally and socially devastating to a “liberated” Li Ch’ing-chao, perhaps China’s first literary feminist. When her second husband proved abusive, she had the remarkable courage to leave him.
Her form, tz’u poems, are new lyrics for old tunes: the equivalent in American vernacular of writing new words for On Top of Old Smoky.