Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Sam Hamill: To the Tune: Eternal Joy

Sunset pours its gold through jade-colored clouds.

But he has gone and heavy mist obliterates the willows.


Someone plays “Falling Plum Blossoms” on a flute,

and spring sadly passes.


The Lantern Festival signals calmer weather,

but tomorrow brings winds and rain.


My friend sends horse and carriage, but I can’t bear

the company of old poetry-and-wine companions.


Long ago, in women’s quarters, we celebrated

festivals all night in belts and necklaces of gold,


with emeralds in our hair—each outshining the other.

Now frail, windblown, and gray, I won’t brave


an evening garden walk among those flowery girls—

I’ll remain behind drawn curtains


eavesdropping, old—

listening to the heartbreak of their joy.


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.

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This entry was posted on December 15, 2017 by in Opinion Leaders, Poetry.

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