Poems of Yu Xuanji
Freeverse on Riverside Willows
(Written among the river trees)
Blue-green by the deserted banks, they
Turn to smoke beside the distant tower.
Their shadows spread on autumn-waters' surface
And their blossoms fall on fishermens' heads.
Their old trunks hide the fishing holes while
Low branches imprison the wandering boat.
And their rushing voices, on a stormy night,
Wake us from our dreams into deeper fears.
In poem titles, I have been translating 赋得 as "A Poetic Essay on" which is correct but is starting to sound stilted. Fu4 (赋) are sometimes "lyric poetry" and sometimes prose with poetry inside. But it seems more natural to call tian2ci2 (填词), which are words set to a known tune by a poet, "lyrics." So I am calling fu4 "freeverse" which is also correct. In the Tang period, most verse was "regulated verse" where two quatrains had lines of five or seven characters each, certain lines rhymed, and, with tones divided into two classes, a pattern of tone classes had to be followed. But a fu4 was unregulated, even more so than "ancient verse." If you just wanted to play with language, you gave fair notice to your readers by starting the title with 赋得. What is often called New Lyric Poetry is an effort to develop and revitalise freeverse by a group including Bai Juyi (772-846), Yuan Zhen (779-831), and some of their friends.
How to talk about the truth of a poet through the poems, as I promised? Here is a first attempt. The choice of language in this poem is plain and direct, as Bai Juyi's would be. Of fifty characters, the only one new to me was ku1 (窟) which means "hole, cave, ..." and might be common to the hearer if not commonly used by poets. So Yu Xuanji's direct use of language is a first hint of what is true about her.
The second is this: the first verse ends in comedy; the second in pathos -- or fear, depending on how you take it. She is a young poet, older than 16 and younger than 28 and living somewhere in the civilised heart of China, so far as we know. What has she learned of fear in her time? And how does she come by balancing it with light-heartedness?