The sky is light gray, there is a dampness on the road, a bit of wind but no rain – it is just such a day and the wild plum in the backyard is almost in bloom.
Li Qingzhao: Song to the tune of “Pusaman”
Translation and artwork: Lena Tan, 2006
Li Qingzhao (c.1083-aft.1149) was the daughter of a respected scholar and official in Song dynasty China. Her husband was often traveling on official business, perhaps accounting for the recurrent theme of aloneness in her poetry, although the loneliness of women was a common subject for this form of poetry written to the tunes of popular songs. In 1126, the Song capital fell to northern invaders and the court retreated southward to establish a new capital in Hangzhou. Li’s husband died at this time and she was left on her own to relocate her household.
Li Bai was born in Central Asia to a family outside the Tang artistocracy. He created a
rebel persona by exaggerating his eccentricities and writing a flamboyant poetry that has been called “strangeness on top of strangeness.” He was never accepted by his contemporaries in the capital, though his prodigious talent got him an appointment in the emperor’s court, from which he was eventually dismissed for frequent transgressions on the social conventions.