Behind a ribbon of evening mist, a chill sky distills,
and a melody of far waterfalls like ten silk strings
comes to my pillow to tug my feelings,
keeping me awake in sorrow past midnight.
Xue Tao was well-respected as a poet during the Tang Dynasty, when she lived. She was born either in the Tang capital Zhangan or later on when her father, a minor government official, was posted to Chengdu in present-day Sichuan province. A story about her childhood, perhaps apocryphal, suggests that she was able to write complex poems by the age of seven or eight. She may have gained some literary education from her father, but he died before she had come to marriageable age and she ended up being a very successful courtesan (one of the few paths for women in Tang Dynasty China in which conversation and artistic talent were encouraged). After Wei Gao, the military governor, became her literary patron, her reputation was widespread. She seems to have had an affair with another famous literary figure, Yuan Zhen. Late in life she went to live in seclusion and put on the habit of a Taoist churchwoman. More than one hundred of her poems survive. She is often considered (with Yu Xuanji) to be one of the two finest female poets of the Tang Dynasty.
Flowers bloom but we can’t share them.
Flowers fall and we can’t share our sadness.
If you need to find when I miss you most:
when the flowers bloom and when they fall.
I pull a blade of grass and tie a heart-shape knot
to send to the one who understands my music.
Spring sorrow is at the breaking point.
Again spring birds murmur sad songs.
Wind, flowers, and the day is aging.
No one knows when we’ll be together.
If I can’t tie my heart to my man’s,
it’s useless to keep tying heart-shaped knots.
Unbearable when flowers fill the branches,
when two people miss each other.
Tears streak my morning mirror like jade chopsticks.
Does the spring wind know that?