Three Female Chinese Poets: Yuan Zhengzhen, Xue Tao and Yu Xuanji
paddling the lake
to the tune of changxiangsi (long lovesickness)
by Yuan Zhengzhen
to the north
these mountains, this lake,
I pluck a lotus
paddling a red boat
no path to the one I miss
* * *
the eagle away from the oversleeve
by Xue Tao
claws sharp as blades
hunted rabbits over the plain received high praise
for no reason
I must not again be held on the emperor’s shoulder
* * *
the late spring
by Yu Xuanji
lovers seldom come to this deep alley
whose fragrance of damask is this?
sounds of drums in the street
how can I care
Yuan Zhengzhen was a palace lady of the Southern Song Dynasty (c. 1200), a time when 99% of Chinese women were illiterate. The above poem has not been previously translated into English, to the best of our knowledge.
Xue Tao (768–831), along with Yu Xuanji (bio below) and Li Ye, was one of the three best-known female Chinese poets from the Tang Dynasty. Xue was the daughter of a minor government official in Changan, the Chinese capital during the Tang. A hundred of her poems are known to have survived to this day.
Yu Xuanji (approximate dates 844–869) was also from Changan. She is distinctive in that many of her poems are written in a remarkably frank and direct autobiographical style — that is, using her own voice rather than speaking through a persona.
Song Zijiang, Chris, a native of Guangdong Province, is currently completing a Masters degree in Literature at the University of Macau. Song has worked on many translation projects, including from classical Chinese into English, and of Australian and American poets into Chinese. His latest book of poems, Strolling, was published by the Association of Stories in Macao in 2010.
Kit Kelen is an Australian poet/artist whose literary works have been widely published and broadcast since the mid seventies. He is an Associate Professor at the University of Macau in south China, where he has taught Literature and Creative Writing for the last ten years. The most recent of Kit Kelen’s books of poetry is China Years: Selected and New Poems (ASM, 2010).