The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter

After Li Po

While my hair was still cut straight
across my forehead
I played at the front gate, pulling
flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing
horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with
blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of
Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or
suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never
looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with
yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the lookout?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river
of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise
overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went
out,
By the gate now, the moss is grown,
the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in
wind.
The paired butterflies are already
yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the
narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fu-sa.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

18 Comments

  1. Sheryl Skoglund says:

    At sixteen you departed,
    You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river
    of swirling eddies,
    And you have been gone five months.
    The monkeys make sorrowful noise
    overhead. Why should I climb the lookout?
    Over the grass in the West garden;
    They hurt me. I grow older.
    If you are coming down through the
    narrows of the river Kiang,
    Please let me know beforehand,
    And I will come out to meet you
    As far as Cho-fu-sa.
    The desertion of Venus.

  2. name says:

    kaaj i luuv it,

  3. name says:

    Well 1.0 has an end of life date now. July rather than March as you had suggested.,

  4. Shohag khan khulna says:

    this is a exclusive poem regarding the absence of one’s lover. how vulnerable a lover can be during the mature period. this poem also shows that if we can’t receive the authentic love in a proper time, repentence is obvious. how a lover misses her lover is also illustrated here.

  5. willie says:

    Most of the readers say this poem is translated from the Chinses poet Li Po’s ( Bai in Pinyin) work. Yes, there is something close to the story, actually, Pound rewrote the story only. He had driven Li Bai away in his ” translation” if it is persistedly called. the line like ” they hurt me, i grew older” does not convey what Li Bai expressed. They stands for the “couple yellow butterflies” flying in the beautiful garden. Their loving dancing and one follows the other reminds the speaker of her husband who has departed for business far away. Observing the butterflies and thinking of her own condition hurts her feeling, evoke her missing her beloved. “I grew older” literally means one’s aged or becomes a senior. Here in Li Bai’s poem, the speaker hates that “time flies”. thou it is not so long for their departing, she suffers day and night from thinking her husband. not “my Lord” as Pound’s. it is worrying and missing and thinking and loving that makes her seemingly “old”.

  6. Wilson Cardoza says:

    I just enjoyed teaching this poem in my literature class here in the school. this poem is full of emotions, and a great way to teach imagery. we had a great class analysis, and kids were eager to share their interpretations with each other.

  7. Linda says:

    when i was a little girl ,i have learned libai’s original poem whose name is 长干行.libai is one of the most famous chinese poets,but i think His literary name was not Li Po.now ,i am preparing my graduate paper ,and i choosse this poem as one of my topic.during the reaserch,i found that ,even though pound’s vesion does not exactly reflct the original poem,it still touch me .

  8. Susan says:

    This poem was a great example of Pound’s work. It is a great achievement and he remains one of my favorite poets.

  9. sumona rahman says:

    the simplicity of this poem is the most touching element.it goes direct to the readers heart. simple feelings but full of emotion.

  10. Geoff says:

    I am a schoar and translator of classical Chinese, so let me comment briefly. Pound knew no Chinese. He worked from notes left by Ernest Fenollosa, who also knew no Chinese, but did know some Japanese. Fenollosa’s notes were based on Japanese versions of the original Chinese poem. Pound’s translation is not always accurate, but is so beautiful for its time, that it lives almost as an independent poem by Pound.

  11. Mary Anne says:

    Last year in literature class, we read this poem in this translation and another translation. They were both very different, but I guess that it because it is so hard to translate from Chinese. Both translations had many dissimilarities, but they both portrayed the same meaning.

    This was one of my favorite poems that I have read in school. It is so rich in emotion.

  12. laurel says:

    It does say on the poem that this is a translation. However, does anyone know for sure how accurate the translation is? When I researched Pound I found that he was fascinated by chinese and endeavored to learn it, but I don’t know if he ever mastered it…and I have read some chinese literature that seriously criticizes the way he handled those poems. I do know that he made a lot of mistakes, and that he would create his own words if he didn’t understand what was written…so a lot of his translations are actually kind of hybrids between his work and the work of the original poet. As far as I understand, that is.

  13. Jon says:

    shouldn’t you be doing your poems instead of typing up that description found in the American Literature text book, ms. chou?

  14. Cathy says:

    Yes, this poem really is based on a poem by Li T’ai Po, one of China’s greatest poets. His literary name was Li Po. If you look this poem up in actual high school text books, it says “based on a poem by Li T’ai Po” on top of the poem and gives you a summary of this Chinese author. Ezra Pound simply translated the poem.

  15. Lulu says:

    Does everyone relized this is not an original poem but a translation of Li Po’s from the Tang Dynasty??? It’s a DIRECT translation… I even found the poem in Chinese!!!!!

  16. halima says:

    most of them are not trusted

  17. Ray Dunn says:

    It’s surely not enough for Aya to quote the single line, ‘They hurt me: I grow older’.
    What hurts is the sight of the butterflies – paired butterflies – seen by this lonely girl. They have grown yellow, already ageing in the brief lives of the creatures, reminders of the autumn-touched leaves, falling early, too soon reminding of the dieing of the year. In her loneliness, this is what hurts her and makes her feel the passing of time.
    A pity all Pound’s work is not so accessible!

  18. Aya says:

    “They hurt me. I grow older.”

    This one line gets me every time I read it.

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