Poem by Yuan Chun
Sent to All My Sisters on Luo River
My old country, I left so many years ago.
I think of its rivers so far away.
I inscribe this poem on wings of returning geese
As the moon reminds me of your eyebrows.
I am aware I worry too much about growing old.
Homesick, even in my dreams I know I am alone.
Who can bear to part from this disordered place?
I hide my tears as I turn to you all.
I have two poems by Yuan Chun and we know a little bit about her life. I'll tell you about her in the next poem. But now let me tell you what it means to "know" something about her.
I am looking at a copy of Tang scroll number 805. It contains her two poems and four couplets which were collected somehow and preserved. This is all I have. So I went looking for more. I found a scholar who says we have three of her poems and three couplets. Hmmm. Must be something other than what I have. Then this person describes the poem above. But it has the title: "Sent to My Younger Sisters on Luo River." Hmmm. And then I am told that three more of her poems were found in a newly recovered Dunhuang scroll and they they are where the three couplets come from. But they only cover two of my couplets. So we have five couplets. And with the three new poems, there is an epitaph for her with her history. More doubtful joy....
What we know about her is a worn and incomplete palimpsest patched together from multiple unreliable sources. Even the epitaph is suspect until you can determine how soon after her passing it was written. She was a Daoist abbess and her memorial is likely to be shined up more and more for posterity the longer it takes to get around to writing it. It's a species of hagiography. So what we "know" should always be taken with a shake or so of salt.