Poems of Yu Xuanji
Composing an Answer-Poem for a Friend
What can overcome this traveler's sadness?
I open pink papers to see a beautiful hand.
Rain from immortal lands mists upon these mountains.
Mountain valley winds blow all the leaves of autumn.
This morning, each character is fine blue jasper.
At night, I read each page again in bed.
I want to add this to my box of treasures.
But I only cherish it when read aloud.
When reading an answer-poem, one must keep in mind that the writer is reponding, in more ways than a reader of our time can grasp, to the poem they are answering. Yu Xuanji, as she writes this poem, is not travelling and staying at an inn, or feeling sad, or reading a letter in a fine hand. As a nun, she may not even own a fragrant (sandalwood) box of treasures. These are all chosen as responses to the challenge poem.
Who is the challenger? We can't know. Probably not her ex-husband. Zi'an can quote poetry and may have written a poem. But she usually names him in the title. She does the same for Wen Tingyun. So here is a possibility: there are other poems about her "friend" (友人) so she may have a poet who she most enjoys trading poems with in these challenge games. He's not her ex and he's not famous. So out of propriety, he remains unnamed. The two might never meet. But poets hope their poems will endure and a prudent person avoids even the appearance of evil. Not that such precautions did Yu Xuanji any good. But we can blame her slanders on men who never knew her and who were interested in profit, not in actually reading her poetry.
As she seems at ease with challenge poems here, we might date this poem to within the last three years of her life.