Poems of Li Ye
Daoist Thoughts Sent to Minister Cui
Do not attach yourself to the ephemera of fame
As you carry out official duties with passion.
One hundred years are as a moment.
Before working, completely fill yourself with emptiness.
Let your hard years lead you to clear vision.
You may feel old but your studies are not yet done.
Do not turn to the Buddhism of India
But take refuge in our ancient masters.
It is tempting to read modern mores and sexuality into ancient poetry. This is mere anachronism. People can easily be deeper and more seriously inclined than our effort to make sense of them is. This poem is a simple, straightforward, and personal address to someone who has perhaps asked Li Ye for her thoughts. If you read it closely, you see how directly she addresses someone whose thought she knows. Li Ye was a Daoist nun and here that is what she shows herself to be.
If we think about her in a serious way, her other poems we have seen so far are not simply love poems. If this poem is to Lu Yu, it is a "Thanking Guest" poem where she indicates that she does not wish to return his interest in her. The first and second poems to Han need be nothing more than indications of her, and her friends, friendship with him. Sending Red Blossoms is probably a love poem. So she is in love with someone, as many of us are. I think we need to be intelligent translators and readers of poetry and not panderers to our own false and anachronistic expectations. If you do not leave it behind early, you will discover just how ephemeral life is. We should let each moment of these poetic past lives denote as much, and not as little, as possible.