A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Spring after spring, I sat before my mirror.
Now I tire of braiding plum buds in my hair.
I’ve gone another year without you,
shuddering with each letter—
since you’ve been gone,
even wine has lost its flavor.
I wept until it was autumn,
my thoughts going south beside you.
Even the gates of heaven
are nearer to me now than you.
— Li Ch’ing-chao
Copyright 2016 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.