Girl with flute and peony blossoms
I hand-copied these poems in my spiral-ring notebook in the 1970s when I was an earnest young man gripped by a fever to read anything that was expressive, exquisite, or simply well-said. I used to borrow anthologies of translated Tang, Sung and Yuan dynasty poems from the National Library and copied those that took my fancy.

Just a few days ago, while doing a Google search, I stumbled upon Women Poets of China, edited and translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung. It was from the same book where I hand-copied the poems some four decades ago.

Here are some of the poems. The lines that I marked in italics are those that have been diamond-etched in my mind:


Evening Rendezvous
Cheng Min

I cannot raise my hand
To knock at your door
For fear the sound will not be gentle enough.

A little boat returns
Without the sound of oars
But waits on the tide and the evening sea wind.

If you, sitting under your lamp,
Hear soft breathing outside your door,
And sense someone quietly near you,
Throw away your cigarette
And soundlessly push open the door
You will see me there,
Waiting by your door.


To the tune, The Narcissus by the River
Chiu Chin

I
Lady Tao Chui-tse gave a farewell party in Tao Jan
Pavilion. My woman friend Mu-ting wrote couplets in
Great Cave calligraphy:

Like a young colt running past a crack in a wall,
The light and darkness of almost a year have gone by.
Wind sweeps the clouds from the sky.
We each go our separate ways.
I share her sadness and write a poem in answer.
I am going to Japan to study
And Tse-ying returns to the South.

II
We have drunk wine and discussed literature.
Our hearts have beat together
With the same emotions.

Softly we sing together the old song
“The Sunlight in the Pass”.
The sorrow of parting will follow our horses’ feet.
The melancholy of farewell
Surrounds the city like a river.

Iron strokes, silver curves, your couplets
Are limitless in their meanings.

Take care of yourself. We can have no confidence
That one day we will see each other.
We stand on the bridge, hand in hand.
The river and the evening clouds stretch away for a
thousand miles.


Summer Freezes Here
Hsiung Hung

I am putting you in a painting.
There is a road there like a ribbon,
A long white ribbon stretching
Deep into mist and clouds,
Deep into an embroidered dream,
Twenty miles long,
In a village by the sea.

We can walk there and never tire.
There are icicles where the road
Goes along the edge of the shore.
Summer freezes there.

You are changed into a transparent forest,
Where every single new leaf
Utters a perfumed word.
You know it well,
This land of my white polar heart,
A road twenty miles long that harvests your footsteps.
One white flower.
One white flower.
One white flower.


Written in the Sunset
Hsiung Hung

Time is engraved on the pale green faces
Of the floating lotus leaves.
Our hearts are a sea, a lake,
Finally a little pond, where
Spider webs interlock over the round leaves,
And below them our longing
Is only a single drop of dew.

Sometimes, suddenly the old story overcomes us.
Time triumphs then
And lets down its hair
Shadowy black,
Trailing like a willow.
The old melancholy
Comes from the land of longing.
The colours of the sunset thicken.
The shadows grow fast on the water.
You can tear them
But not tear them away.


Thinking of Someone
Hsiung Hung

For you I have stored up an ocean of thought,
Quiet, transparent, bright.
Your arms encircle the city of sleep
Of my far off, beautiful dreams.
A lamp shines faintly through a crescent window.
It is your name, changed to gold and silver silk,
That has wrapped me and entangled me
With half a century.

An ocean of thoughts
All stored in that quiet city moat
The most beautiful language,
Sounds like beautiful flower petals,
That fall and clothe my body with dream.


Picture from China Post 2012 postage stamps depicting Song Dynasty poems on flowers

Contents

The land
of longing

Women poets
of China