Poems of Yu Xuanji
Yu Xuanji's Timeline - A History Derived From All Her Poetry
Childhood and Marraige
Yu Xuanji was born about 844 as the Emperor Wuzong reunited his kingdom by defeating the last of the rebellious circuit governors. Her father was an official, highly enough placed for his daughter to have one of Wuzong's minor princes as a playmate. There was an incident with a goat cart which neither playmate ever forgot. By the time she was married at sixteen, Yu was very well educated. She could not only write regulated verse using a very large, yet natural, vocabulary. She could reply to other poets' challenge-poems in that form. Yu could also play the lute (琴.) She married an official, Li Yi. But she was spiritually moved to take Daoist orders as a nun. She and her husband, who were obviously in love, discussed her doing this. In the end, at nineteen, she left him and entered a monastery.
- 寓言 - A Fairy Tale
- 情书 - Love Letter
- 暮春即事 - Taking Care of Things as Spring Ends
- 送别 - Farewell (2)
- 早秋 - An Early Fall
- 闺怨 - A Woman's Complaint
- 代人悼亡 - Mourning Someone Else's Wife
- 寄子安 - For Zi'an
Yu Xuanji seems to have entered a monastery outside the capital, Chang'an, where she would have studied for two to five years. Because she seems to have aquired the ability to generate internal heat, a skill shared by a friend of Bai Juyi and still accomplished today, her training was probably on the longer side. She studied under a Master Ti and perhaps under Kindom's Fragrance, who was more likely an abbot. From her first moments in the monastery to the end of her life, she continues to send poems to her ex-husband expressing their enduring love.
- 赠邻女 - For the Girl Next Door
- 酬李学士寄簟 - Reward for Li's Sending a Daoist Neophyte Her Sleeping Mat
- 打球作 - On Playing Ball
- 春情寄子安 - Spring Feelings Sent to Zi'an
- 题任处士创资福寺 - On the Appointment of a Recluse to Enter Abundant Fortune Temple
- 访赵炼师不遇 - I Went to Visit Master Zhao But He Wasn't Home
- 左名场自泽州至京使人传语 - At the Eastern Examination Hall in the Capital of Zezhou, I Watch a Messenger's Announcement
- 迎李近仁员外 - Welcoming Official Li Jinren
- 和新及第悼亡诗二首 - Lament on the Death of a Recent Exam Graduate, in two verses
- 游崇真观南楼睹新及第题名处 - Travelling with Real Respect to South Tower to See Where a Recent Exam Graduate Inscribed His Name
- 和人 - Friend
Let us say that Yu Xuanji studied Daoist practices for four years. She is then twenty-three when she completes training. She travels once to Hubei province. But mainly she lives in or near the capital. Most indications have her living in the monastery but she may also have lived in the town for a time. During this period, or perhaps from her time in training, she becomes well-known in the capital as a poet. She exchanges challenge and answer poems with Wen Tingyun, the most famous and fashionable poet of the period, as well as other poets, including "a friend" who is probably her princely childhood playmate.
- 寄国香 - For Kingdom's Fragrance
- 过鄂州 - Visiting Hubei
- 寄题炼师 - For Master Ti
- 江陵愁望寄子安 - Longing Regrets in Jiangling, for Zi'an
- 隔汉江寄子安 - Beyond Han River, for Zi'an
- 浣纱庙 - Washing Silk Temple
- 暮春有感寄友人 - Thoughts at End of Spring for a Friend
- 冬夜寄温飞卿 - Winter Night, for Wen Feiqing (Wen Tingyun)
- 酬李郢夏日钓鱼回见示 - Reward for Li's Walking Me Home after Fishing on a Summer Day in Old Ying.
- 次韵西邻新居兼乞酒 - Answer-Poem to "I and My New Neighbor Both Beg Wine"
- 和人次韵 - Answer-Poem for a Friend
- 和友人次韵 - Composing an Answer-Poem for a Friend
- 闻李端公垂钓回寄赠 - On Learning that Li Duan was a Fisherman, I Wrote Him this Poem
- 重阳阻雨 - Yang Festival and Blocked by Rain
- 期友人阻雨不至 - When Friends Were Prevented by Rain from Visiting
- 夏日山居 - Hilltop Summer Home
- 送别 - Farewell
Her Final Years
Yu Xuanji dies at age twenty-eight (some say twenty-six). In the last year or so, there is a period where Yu Xuanji is fearful that something is wrong with her. This fear becomes reality and she realizes that she is dying. Before she passes on, she self-publishes scrolls of her work, entitled "Fragments of a Northern Dreamland." This volume, which would perhaps have contained hundreds of poems, is lost to us. By 872, Yu Xuanji is lost to us, as well.
- 遣怀 - What I'm Feeling
- 赋得江边柳 - Freeverse on Riverside Willows
- 江行 - Floating the River
- 寄飞卿 - For Fei Qing (Wen Tingyun)
- 感怀寄人 - Sharing What I'm Feeling
- 寄刘尚书 - For Minister Liu
- 卖残牡丹 - Selling Damaged Peonies
- 光威裒姊妹三人少孤而始妍乃有是作精粹难俦虽谢家联雪何以加之有客自京师来者示予因次其韵 - Sisters Guang, Wei, and Pou were three young orphans here. They grew into beauty as their work became pure. It was hard to befriend them and I am grateful to my house for wiping away their humiliation. Later, they were guests here when my master arrived from the capital. It was he who thought I should write this poem.
- 愁思 - Forlorn
- 题隐雾亭 - Inscribed on a Fog-Enshrouded Pavilion
- 秋怨 - Autumn Complaint
- 折杨柳 - Admiring Willows
As with all her fellow women poets, men have preserved few facts of Yu Xuanji's life. Most of what is preserved is slanderous. And after dealing with this situation in the works of over half a dozen women poets, I'm tired of it, tired of echoing the semi-truths and downright lies of ancient religious and political fundamentalists, busybodies, and other perverts. In these translations of Yu Xuanji, I have dealt only with the absolute truths of her poetry and have left all else to fall away as it should.
Nothing in the above timeline is certain. But everything there is probable. This timeline is based only on the truth of her voice from within her own poems. Poems are placed in chronological order, where that is possible. The poems were translated in the order they appear in the Tang scrolls. My 废话 within the poetry pages themselves were written in the original order as well, as I went along. I have not adjusted them to fit my final understanding.
Poems translated from 24 October to 09 November 2015.