Thursday, March 5, 2009
Fan Jinghua: Chen Yun (1763-1803)
Chen Yun, Wife to a Poor Poet (1763-1803)
Your man loves you. His love even makes him sorry for himself,
But that does not make him a rivet fixing meaning with your everyday world.
You exist only within the walls of his family, and the gate does not open.
Looking out of your bedroom window, you see the gate facing the distant,
But then the gate is so distant that you have not been able to open it on his returns.
You imagine a kerchief into a blank sheet of drawing paper and a few imaginary
Strokes making it into birds in the sky. You do not have to suggest directions
Or the time of the day. You do not even look up when drawing. No necessary.
The only necessity is to compose a couplet or two in your mind and belly,
For even the carved seals will not arrest time like a paperweight does a letter.
So you have faith. He will learn your lines, and that is enough for you.
This autumn lasts longer and deeper than you have expected,
And it falls into the recess of solitude.
If life can not be spring of flowers and bees, better let it be autumn.
You have learned in early years that if one’s bosom
Is familiar with one’s private strangeness, before long poetry will grow in there.
Spring is also good for being alone, but the toad of your soul
Will crawl out to the arm to prey on flying insects.
In summertime, you cannot disguise yourself as a man, and it is also good
For you can wear jasmines on your hair.
You may recline in the west chamber, making faces at the spicy line
He challenges you into a couplet, and curl your lip at the small snakes
In the wine glass in which shades of ghosts make love…
A late night with a full moon, when he slips out of you, the spirit of that toad
Flies away through the window like a wisp of blue smoke.
Oh, my brother dear! My feminine element is a little too consuming and sharp,
And I’ll have to find you a woman round-shouldered and simple-minded,
So that when I am dead waiting for you to join me in another life,
You still have a warm and tender body to pillow and touch.
It’s a shame that this winter is frozenly stagnant, and I have not yet
Seen any waist and wrist that I’d love to see you fond of touching.
You write down this line with the ink of imagination—
Her shadow, nibbled by autumn, looks thinner and colder.
You read it for several times, unvoiced, and feel the last syllables too heavy,
Wondering, which side autumn light should strike, face or back, to make
A smoother silhouette, and in which hours of the day he may feel like to
Recite a heroic couplet to the wild geese in the sky over your head.
This moment is shameful. No playful hand of his gropes to feel your sicken heart.
He is absent, away in some distant town, leaving your daughter and son
At the mercy of strangers. You used to sneak back into your bedroom, between errands,
With fake irritation, tucking your cold hand into the quilt to get him out of the bed.
You used to lure him with a mini-landscape that was composing by the courtyard wall.
What you can have is too transient. In the early morning light,
You can barely see “Chrysanthemums swell with the frost.”
This is actual, and the petals may be comparable with your lungs.
Your only possession, lying bare on the desk-dresser, is a fragrant pouch
Stuffed with lines and couplets never developed into a finished poem,Waiting for him to read before he burns them back to you.
Feb. 24-26, 2009
Note: CHEN Yun was the wife to the poor scholar poet Shen Fu (1763-1825) who wrote a memoir entitled Six Chapters in a Floating Life. She once said about her fate that she was “stricken with a bitter incarnation and over-obsessed with passion” which she thought would be responsible for her short life, and she died with the last breath to her husband “next life.”