Women and Poems of Departure and Separation in Dynastic China

June 11, 2015

I.

You have a life, pledge it to the nation;

Only by forgetting y our home can you avenge the nation.

I have a life, I pledge it to you.

Don’t say that because a woman like me is with the army,

It diminishes the army.

I wish I could wash away the opposition to women’s aspirations,

A thousand years of it.

Shed blood, not tears.

I urge our horse forward, saying good-bye at the boat,

If the shame of our nation could be eradicated,

What more could I ask?

Chen Biniang, wife of General Zhang Da, of the Southern Song court. Written in 1279, on the eve of the Mongol conquest of the Song, as she parts from her husband and as the court flees south with the 8 year old emperor, Di Bing. An excerpt.

II.

Flapping banners move our hearts as we say goodbye.

I hesitate to leave, unable to walk away.

After the rain, farming in Bianliang [Kaifeng] thrives.

In receding waves, the traveler’s westbound boat is swift.

It’s hard to say good-bye, cross the passes and hills.

Trudging the torturous paths, I’ll find it hard to reckon the distance.

Not knowing when we shall meet again, let’s write letters.

Looking at each other, we only pick up cup after cup of wine.

“Weeping for my Husband,” Chen Deyi, on parting from her husband, the Ming minister Li Ang, sometime in the late 15th century.

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