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Chen, Yuan


The Summer Palace

In the faded old imperial palace,
Peonies are red, but no one comes to see them. . . .
The ladies-in-waiting have grown white-haired
Debating the pomps of Emperor Hsuan-tsung.

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An Elegy

I
O youngest, best-loved daughter of Hsieh,
Who unluckily married this penniless scholar,
You patched my clothes from your own wicker basket,
And I coaxed off your hairpins of gold, to buy wine with;
For dinner we had to pick wild herbs -
And to use dry locust-leaves for our kindling.
. . . Today they are paying me a hundred thousand -
And all that I can bring to you is a temple of sacrifice.

II
We joked, long ago, about one of us dying,
But suddenly, before my eyes, you are gone.
Almost all your clothes have been given away;
Your needleworok is sealed, I dare not look at it. . . .
I continue your bounty to our men and our maids -
Sometimes, in a dream, I bring you gifts.
. . . This is a sorrow that all mandkind must know -
But not as those know it who have been poor together.

III
I sit here alone, mourning for us both.
How many years do I lack now of my threescore and ten?
There have been better men than I to whom heaven denied a son,
There was a better poet than I whose dead wife could not hear him.
What have I to hope for in the darkness of our tomb?
You and I had little faith in a meeting after death -
Yet my open eyes can see all night
That lifelong trouble of your brow.