Text of the Poem

Soon after I wore my hair covering my forehead
I was plucking flowers and playing in front of the gate,
When you came by, walking on bamboo-stilts
Along the trellis, playing with the green plums.
We both lived in the village of Ch’ang-kan,
Two children, without hate or suspicion.
At fourteen I became your wife;
I was shame-faced and never dared smile.
I sank my head against the dark wall;
Called to a thousand times, I did not turn.
At fifteen I stopped wrinkling my brow
And desired my ashes to be mingled with your dust.
I thought you were like the man who clung to the bridge:
Not guessing I should climb the Look-for-Husband Terrace,
But next year you went far away,
To Ch’ü-t’ang and the Whirling Water Rocks.
In the fifth month “one should not venture there”
Where wailing monkeys cluster in the cliffs above.
In front of the door, the tracks you once made
One by one have been covered by green moss—
Moss so thick that I cannot sweep it away,
And leaves are falling in the early autumn wind.
Yellow with August the pairing butterflies
In the western garden flit from grass to grass.
The sight of these wounds my heart with pain;
As I sit and sorrow, my red cheeks fade.
Send me a letter and let me know in time
When your boat will be going through the three gorges of Pa.
I will come to meet you as far as ever you please,
Even to the dangerous sands of Ch’ang-fēng.


  1. Ch’ang-feng is a city a few hundred miles outside of Chang-kan. In the same way that the speaker instructs her husband to send her a letter, she is ready to take action herself, even risking danger to be reunited with her paramour. Just as much as this is a love poem, it is also a coming-of-age poem as the speaker develops from a child to a woman who is willing to take charge of her destiny.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The “three gorges of Pa” is likely a reference to the three gorges along the Yangtze River. Famous for their dramatic beauty, Li Po spent his life in the Yangtze region observing nature, human behavior, and writing poetry.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. These two lines mark a shift in the poem. When the speaker describes the red of her cheeks fading, this symbolically reflects that the intense emotion she has been experiencing, sadness and longing, is also fading. She is ready to move from remembering and lamenting to action. This is emphasized by the shift in tone in the following lines; “Send me a letter” is a command, an action that her husband can take to remedy her loneliness.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. As the speaker continues to describe her emotional response to her husband’s absence, the translator has the poem shift from end-stopped lines to enjambment. Enjambment occurs when a phrase or idea runs from one line to the next, as it does here with “the pairing butterflies / In the western garden flit from grass to grass.” This line break emphasizes the butterflies (whose “pairing” contrasts with the narrator’s loneliness), and underscores the emotional struggle of the speaker, whose feelings of sadness overflow from line to line.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. There are moments when the translator made use of traditional poetic devices such as rhyme and repetition. When the speaker describes the length of time her husband has been gone, she emphasizes the slow passage of time with the phrase “one by one.” She also repeats the word “moss,” emphasizing the flora that has grown in her husband’s absence. Assonance, repeated vowel sounds, also occur in the words “green” and “sweep,” giving these emotional lines a lyrical quality that stands out from the rest of the narrative events described in the poem.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. This poem has been translated into free verse, so it follows no particular meter or rhyme scheme. It also utilizes end-stopped lines, meaning most lines contain a complete idea and grammatical unit. Here, the poem becomes more epic in scope, shifting from the speaker’s memories to descriptions of her absent husband’s travels; yet, the end-stopped lines and free verse ensure that the poem remains conversational in tone and accessible for the reader.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. As the speaker comes of age, she grows in confidence, represented by the fact that she has “stopped wrinkling [her] brow.” Her expression shifts from worried to calm. Li Po also uses synecdoche to describe the speaker’s passion for her husband. Synecdoche occurs when a part is used to represent the whole of an object or idea. In this context, the speaker’s “ashes” and her husband’s “dust” represent the entirety of their bodies.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Ch'ang-kan is an ancient city in North Central China. It was the capital of the Tang dynasty, 618 to 906 CE, when Li Po lived. The Tang dynasty is celebrated as a golden age of high culture and arts in Chinese history.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Li Po makes use of apostrophe, a literary device in which the speaker of a poem addresses an absent individual or abstract idea. Here, that person is “you,” someone that the reader comes to understand is the speaker’s first love and husband. In some ways, the poem reads as an epistle, a letter, to him. However, “you” could also refer to the reader, inviting the audience into dialogue with the speaker.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The speaker narrates the poem from a first-person perspective, beginning with anecdotes, or short stories, from her own life. Over the course of the poem, the speaker provides descriptions of her face to symbolize her mental and emotional states. Here, she describes her childish or messy hairstyle to reflect her age at the start of the poem.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor