A poem in reply

Translated by: 
Justin Hill

The great thoroughfares

are wide without friends.

Dusk till dawn

pawning my fine silk gowns.

In my casket, the tarnished mirror –

straggles of hair down my face.

The incense burner still gives off heat

but now the scent’s grown thin.


This affectionate Master

left behind a spring poem.

My door was shut. I was not in.

How thoughtless of me!

Take your rich carriage out again

don’t regret another ride.

Willow threads and plums blossom

are most fragrant now.

Yu Xuanji (c 844–870) is perhaps the most distinctive of the female Tang Poets -writing feminist poetry in the 9th century. She also combined all the ways a woman could have some degree of independence – concubine, courtesan and priestess – into one short life (by all accounts she died/was executed at the age of 26). While many of her poems are protests against the limitations imposed on a woman in Tang society, they also give a fascinating insight into the challenges of a young and talented courtesan trying to make a way in life – and ultimately failing. The original Chinese text of the poems is here: http://xtf.lib.virginia.edu/xtf/view?docId=Chinese/uvaGenText/tei/yu/YuXuan.xml


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