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Lady Xi -- Wang Wei

       
(Poem #855) Lady Xi
 No present royal favour could efface
 The memory of the love that once she knew.
 Seeing a flower filled her eyes with tears.
 She did not speak a word to the King of Chu.
-- Wang Wei
 Original circa 8th century AD.
 Translated by Vikram Seth.
 From "Three Chinese Poets", 1994.

[Notes]

 The King of Chu in the seventh century BC defeated the ruler of Xi and took
his wife. She had children by him but never spoke to him.
 Fourteen centuries later Wang Wei, then twenty years old, wrote this poem
in the following circumstances. One of his patrons, a prince, had acquired
the wife of a cake-seller. A year later he asked her if she still loved her
husband, and she gave no answer. The man was sent for, and when she saw him
her eyes filled with tears.
 This took place before a small but distinguished literary gathering, and
the prince, moved, asked for poems on the subject. Wang Wei's poem was
finished first, and when it was read out, everyone else agreed it was
pointless to try to write something better.
 The prince reportedly returned the cake-seller's wife to her husband.
        -- Vikram Seth, "Three Chinese Poets"

[Commentary]

I've always found Chinese poetry to be imbued with a peculiar poignancy, a
sense of loss which is no less acute for being remembered. I don't know if
this an artefact of translation, or part of the essence of the poetry
itself, informed as it is by the weight of millennia of history. Probably a
bit of both; either way, I like it.

thomas.

[On Wang Wei, Tu Fu and Li Po]

 To compare the incomparable, if the difficulty of translating Wang Wei is
akin to the difficulty of playing Mozart, the difficulty of translating Du
Fu with his rich counterpoint of historical allusion can be compared to that
of playing Bach. As for translating the wild and romantic Li Bai -- it is
rather like playing Beethoven, often full of sound and fury, signifying
(usually) a great deal. But in each poem, as important as the texture or
tone of the work is the exact content of what is being said -- and the
translator's task is not to improvise cadenzas in the spirit of the piece
but to stick, as tellingly as he can, to the score.
        -- Vikram Seth, "Three Chinese Poets"

[Minstrels Links]

 Li Po:
Poem #504, About Tu Fu
Poem #683, To Tu Fu from Shantung
Poem #749, Parting
Poem #794, In the Quiet Night
Poem #826, Self-Abandonment

 Vikram Seth:
Poem #650, All You Who Sleep Tonight
Poem #754, Protocols
Poem #460, Round and Round

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