Poems of Bao Junhui
East Pavillion Tea Gathering
Idle morning, close to dawn, we emerge from curtained cages.
Best young tea, East Pavillion, we gaze in all directions.
Looking down on moated walls and then on mountain scenes,
Below we hear the strings and flutes wrapped in river's voices.
Distant bamboo lines a pond like newly sprouted jade.
Fragrant hibiscus beneath the eaves makes me whisper, "pink."
Our desire, boundless, long to sit in the midst of here and now
Grows greater as our rounded fans stir up our own cool breeze.
Bao Junhui spent just over three months in the court of the Tang emperor Dezong (780 - 805) and then contrived successfully to go away. She could have asked for leave to care for her mother and then return. She left for good. We know little about Bao Junhui beyond her being a talented poet at an early age, her being called to court, and her return to her home. In spite of the apparent pleasures in the poem above, she didn't hesitate to return to her mother. Coming from a family that would be acceptable to the court, one might think that her mother would be well-off when the father died. But this is long, long before any sense of justice for women entered the world. When an official died, his salary died too. The poet Bai Juyi's father died while in imperial service and his mother was left penniless in the countryside. Bao Junhui's mother could very well have been living in a chicken- and milletless hut.
Note, in the first line, that the women emerge from "curtained cages." There are many other ways to described their curtained architectural openings, none of which use this 栊 (long2), which mostly indicates animal cages. To me, the rest of the poem is a crescendo of irony. But not a cynical irony, I think. One doesn't whisper (actually "say"), "pink" with irony. One does that more with a mild sense of awe, if you're a normal person. And the beauty of the descriptions throughout the poem show a love of the world. She lives with other kept-women in a cage. The world outside court walls is beautiful. And as soon as she can work it out, she is _so_ out of here.