Three Chinese Poems

TRANSLATED BY STELLA FISHER BURGESS AND LI AN-CHE

I

In the Ming Dynasty a certain number of court maidens were always set aside, for life, for the chance whim of His Majesty. Once the Emperor, out of pity for his troops in the North guarding the Great Wall, gave order that these maidens should busy themselves making winter garments for these soldiers. One such soldier, on receiving his coat, found within on a strip of silk the following unsigned poem

THE guards of the Wall, how great their discomfort!
Most acute on the field in hours meant for sleep.
My fingers have fashioned this coat for a soldier,
Though with no means of knowing to whose hands it shall pass.
Goodwill has here added more thread to the making,
Deep emotion has packed the wadding more close.
Gone is the chance of a meeting in this life,
But — reincarnation, and hope shall be fact!

II

Found carved on a rock above the hot springs of T’ang Ch’uan, Chihli Written by a nameless court maiden

THE northern frontier! Winter at prime!
Yet even here there is one attraction —
This small pool, hot as boiling water.
Why when, from of old, in steady flow
These hot springs have gushed forth,
Why could they not have warmed cold human hearts?

III

‘Han Yeh pu Mei, K’ou Chan’ Written by Yao Hsi Hsia, daughter of Yao Tai, of the Ching Dynasty

SLEEPLESS, on a cold night, I pour out my heart:
It is taking the long-drawn-out night for the moon, shining
on the curtain, slowly to set.
Sleepless, I sit up, compelled however weak.
In my thoughts are many things unutterable
All implied in a muffled cry of ‘ Mother! ’