Poems of Yu Xuanji
A Woman's Complaint
Her hands busy making salad, tears shine on her face.
I hear the neighbor's husband has returned.
The other day a southern goose flew off to the north.
This morning her northern goose again comes south.
Spring comes, autumn goes, yearning stays the same.
Autumn goes, spring comes, she hopes for any news.
To her locked vermillion gates, no man comes.
What is that beating sound that's coming from her rooms?
I've been translating gui4 (闺) as boudoir. It means "the apartments of women." But really, it often should be simply "woman" or "women." That's what it is here. This is Yu witnessing the abuse of her neighbor by the woman's husband. In China, men were often posted somewhere and they left their wives behind. They didn't have to. Bai Juyi seemed to always take his with him. But one might leave a wife behind to protect her from the malarial south. Or one might do it so that one is free to do what one chooses with other women. China was very large, dangerous to travel in, and husbands didn't always return. Those who did, returned unannounced. In these circumstances, a woman might wish for news from her husband and still accept the comfort of another man. Life is often complex, like the human heart. People, on both sides of every divide, sometimes hurt the people they love.