Home > Translation > Three Female Chinese Poets: Yuan Zhengzhen, Xue Tao and Yu Xuanji

Three Female Chinese Poets: Yuan Zhengzhen, Xue Tao and Yu Xuanji

March 29, 2011

translated by Song Zijiang and Kit Kelen






paddling the lake

to the tune of changxiangsi (long lovesickness)

by Yuan Zhengzhen

to the north
to the south
mountains loom in the clouds

these mountains, this lake,
this scene
as if painted

I pluck a lotus
for pleasure

paddling a red boat
west to east

no path to the one I miss


* * *




the eagle away from the oversleeve

by Xue Tao

claws sharp as blades
eyes acute as tinkling bells

hunted rabbits over the plain received high praise

for no reason
soared into serene clouds

I must not again be held on the emperor’s shoulder


* * *




the late spring

by Yu Xuanji

lovers seldom come to this deep alley
their spirits have to linger on in dreams

whose fragrance of damask is this?
from which tower does this breeze blow the song?

sounds of drums in the street
disturb my morning sleep
magpies chirping in the courtyard
confuse my spring sorrows

how can I care
for things of this world?
ten thousand miles, my life,
like a boat unmoored

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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).

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  1. Nick
    March 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm


    I was very impressed with the way you collaborated to cope with the problem of intralinear caesura, particularly in “the late spring” — it’s the sort of brave, necessary intervention that academic translations almost never have, and it manages to reflect the grammar of the original while it gets the gist and rhythm into the 21st century.

  2. Tony Press
    March 29, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Such lovely lines – thank you for this. The one I’ll carry for now is:
    no path to the one I miss

    … but that last stanza of the 3rd one is also memorable.

  3. April 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Very fine, I especially like the Yuan Zhengzhen, and the line Tony quotes.

    (There’s something very exciting about it not having been translated before.)

  1. May 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm
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