Poems of Xue Tao
Sending an Old-Style Poem to Yuan Weizhi (Yuan Zhen)
Chanting a poem with attitude, anyone can do.
Exquisite scenery, I alone understand.
Beneath the moon, chanting flowers cherish the quiet dark
And rainy mornings inscribed upon the willows make me sigh.
We've long been taught that jasper lies in deepest depths.
All my women's writings, I've written in my own way.
Big shots don't get to decide what is worth keeping.
And you can stick to teaching men.
Xue Tao is writing this for Bai Juyi's best friend, Yuan Zhen, the famous Tang poet. He and Bai were poet-celebrities in their time. This poem is the basis for our reading in scholarly venues that Xue Tao had sexual relations with Yuan. Mmmm. I don't think sinologists know the first thing about getting laid.
Women -- successful, independent women in particular -- are not that easily bedded. She may know Yuan well enough to use his courtesy name. But she isn't that friendly or she would use it without the Yuan. Next, as any man who has felt the sharp edge of woman's tongue could tell you, she is ripping him a new one with this poem. It sounds like he offered some fatherly, patronising advice on the topic of her poetry. We must admit that he would have known what he was talking about. He was a far better poet than Xue Tao. But she clearly wasn't interested in gaining the approval of men. She bloody well knew what that was worth.
On the basis of all her poems, and heavily influenced by this one, I think that Xue Tao's four hundred and fifty poems in The Brocade River Collection were probably very entertaining. I'm sorry they've been lost to us. As far as the art of poetry goes, I'd say she was the weakest of the female poets of the Tang. But again, I have to judge by what has reached us and these poems may have been the ones she didn't want us to see but couldn't bring herself to burn. She might be far better than I think. But we can see in what we do have that she is independent, sincere, intelligent, practical, realistic, full of heart. I'm going to miss her.