Poems of Yu Xuanji
Floating the River
Long River nurtures a horde of darting bream
And another horde of parrots, nesting on the shoals.
On a painted boat, a spring nap whiles away a morning
As I dream I am a butterfly, searching for flowers.
Spring runs riot along Cormorant Creek where
My boat glides along down the parrot-covered shoals.
Drunk, I relax. Sober, I chant. All without even thinking.
This morning, my fears are beyond the stars.
I wondered in her first poem what Yu Xuanji knew about fear. Perhaps that poem and this one both come after she knows something is wrong with her health and before she knows she will not live. This could be around 869 or 870. Both poems take place relaxing along a river. Both talk about fear. All of this is speculation. But the details of a life coalesce and cohere. And Yu's short life intensifies these historical gravitational fields.
While she is probably on or near the Han River (汉江), which passes by Chang'an, she is hundreds of miles from its headwaters (汉江头) and mouth. Large rivers are used as symbols of the Milky Way, stars, remoteness. If she's on her own, she probably is on Cormorant Creek, as she says. Of course, the final line could be: "This morning, I am startled from my reverie to find myself drifting out onto Han River." In which case, no fear and no hints about her life.