Poems of Li Ye
For Minister Han of Jiangxi
(Written when Yan Bojun was going to Jiangzhou)
We saw each other last among the willows.
Now my regret at parting has turned to tenderness.
Your lone boat on those rivers so far away --
Where will I be when it returns?
The flowing tide has not yet reached up to the city
Where I must wait by the docks to hear from you.
I only ever hear from the wild geese on Heng mountain
Who every year faithfully return to me.
All we can say about this poem regarding Li Ye's life is that it is probably written after her last poem for Han. He was an ommissioner then. Now he is a minister in Jiangxi. No other hints about her life, beyond noting that her friendship for Han has her writing him another poem about how she misses him. And this one doesn't mention the rest of her circle. On the other hand, the "miss you" parts are pretty standard and need not be overly personal. The note at the beginning about Uncle Yan could have been used to give Han an idea of how and when she tried to send the poem -- if it ever got to him. There wasn't a postal service. You sent your letters with someone going that way and hoped for the best. The results, at best, could take months. Li Ye could have written this poem for Han, made a copy into her own collected works, and then sent off the original with Uncle Yan.
A note on translation. The idea of translating from the Chinese is sometimes absurd. Chinese can be so compact and suggestive that its resonance in each translator's mind will differ. And so each mind will have to give a different, but true, translation.
Let's look at lines five and six:
So we have something like:
The tide has not yet come up the river to the city and overflown its banks.
Here at the big mouth of the river I must hope for a letter from you.
But what if pen2cheng2 (overflow city) is an old place name? And if she means "summer" and not "big," what happens to "mouth?" And what if she means "trust" or "believe" and not "letter?" Then we could have "believe I ought to hope" which adds an interesting nuance beyond "woman waiting to hear from lover." Every pair of lines in the poem -- and lines are generally paired into longer phrases -- are full of just these sorts of choices and questions. And all the translator can do is pick a continuity of defensible choices and run with them.
Also note that the two translated lines above are not too poetic. They lack smoothness. Or something. And while it would be easier to add things to them, wouldn't it be better to make them shorter to reflect the aesthetics of the short lines in the original? But at what point does that become falsely cryptic?