Poems of Xu Hui
Trying to Put a Small Mountain Down on Paper
Gazing up at a distant crag, exchanging loving glances.
I ate some cassia bark to help me calm my mind.
If I live to be a thousand, will we ever meet like this?
Why this fragrance as I go my way alone?
Why, if Xu Hui wrote over one thousand poems, are only five left to us? I suspect foul play -- men not preserving women's poetry. And perhaps, as a woman, she had a diminished opportunity for preserving her poems by parking them in various Buddhist monasteries, as Bai Juyi did.
In this poem, she seems amorously wistful, wishful, exchanging glances with someone who isn't even there. Although as an imperial consort, she is not up in the mountains alone. She would have female attendants and male escorts. But she wishes someone particular were here. Maybe later we can guess who.
My first impression of line two was that someone was doing drugs. Characters two and three are cassia or Chinese cinnamon which was used as a relaxant and induced a mild calm. The last two characters mean meditate or meditation. The line is an unusually personal revelation.
The whole poem is a bit strange because of the six character lines. Most Tang poetry is five or seven character lines in four line quatrains. A lyric, or a poet's new words to a recognizable tune, will have pairs of triplets in the beginning sometimes or the odd six character line. This is the first six character quatrain I have seen. Maybe we should put it down to my lack of experience. Studying Chinese is a bit like exploring a vast continent alone and on foot. You don't ever hardly know nothin'. The last two lines are more literally:
a thousand years old, ah, meet like this
fragrance why, ah, go my own way