5 Poems for Willow

Willow was of a merchant family of Luo Yang City. Her father was rich and successful in business but drowned in a storm’s tossing waves. Her mother did not care so much for her sons but doted on Willow. At 17, she started to apply makeup and wear her hair in a bun, without much success. Abandoning makeup and mirrors, she blew leaves and chewed flowers, tuned the zither and played the bamboo flute.  She would play ‘Sea Wind and Waves’, and evoke heartbreak and mystery in her music.

Living close by, I heard from neighbours and friends of her family she had been this way for ten years, they suspected she was a drunkard and dreamer and no one would be betrothed to her. I listened to my older cousin Kun Rangshan, who lived next to Willow.

One cloudy spring day he dismounted from his horse at the southern part of her house and recited to her my Swallow Terrace poems. Startled, she asked, ” Who wrote this? Who was this written for?” Rangshan replied: ” It was written by a young cousin of mine.” Willow immediately tore her belt with her hands and made a love knot for Rangshan to give to me in return for a poem.

On the following clear day, I rode to her street. Little Willow had donned makeup, dressed her hair, and waved her fan until her sleeve trembled. She said: ” Are you the little cousin? Three days from now, some neighbors and I will go to prepare the sprinkle the dress ritual, and I shall take a Boshan censor and wait for you.” I promised I would go. However,  a friend headed to the Capitol playfully stole my luggage and clothes with them as he went ahead, and I could not stay.

In the middle of winter Rangshan came to Chang An and said,”She married a governor from the east.” Next year, Rangshan again left for the east, I bid him farewell at Xiting port.

I wrote these poems to be placed where she used to live.

花房与蜜脾,  huā fáng yǔ mì pí,

蜂雄蛱蝶雌。  fēng xióng  jiá dié cí。

同时不同类,  tóng shí  bù tóng lèi,

那复更相思。  nà;nèi fù gèng;gēng  xiāng sī。


本是丁香树,  běn shì  dīng xiāng shù,

春条结始生。  chūn tiáo jié;jiē shǐ shēng。

玉作弹棋局,  yù zuò tán;dàn  qí jú,

中心亦不平。  zhōng xīn yì  bù píng。


嘉瓜引蔓长,  jiā guā yǐn màn;mán cháng;zhǎng,

碧玉冰寒浆。  bì yù bīng hán jiāng。

东陵虽五色,  dōng líng suī  wǔ sè,

不忍值牙香。  bù rěn zhí yá xiāng。


柳枝井上蟠,  liǔ zhī jǐng shàng pán,

莲叶浦中干。  lián yè pǔ zhōng gān;gàn;hàn。

锦鳞与绣羽,  jǐn lín yǔ xiù yǔ,

水陆有伤残。  shuǐ lù yǒu  shāng cán。


画屏绣步障,  huà píng;bǐng xiù  bù zhàng,

物物自成双。  wù wù zì  chéng shuāng。

如何湖上望,  rú hé hú shàng wàng,

只是见鸳鸯。  zhǐ shì jiàn;xiàn  yuān yāng。


 First Poem

 A flowers bud and a honeycomb

Her fatal butterfly, his valiant bee

So different…but linked in time

Can ever their hearts with true love pine?


Second Poem

 You are a sweet lilac tree

Whose knotted flowers first emerge in Spring

You are a jade chessboard[1]

Whose center, or heart, is an uneven thing


Poem 3

 A fine melon attracts long vines

Within its dark jade, juice turns to ice

Although Eastern Mound melons[2] sport five hues

How can one bear to devour your flesh, so perfumed?


Poem 4

 Above the well, the willow’s branches twist

The lotus leaves dry up on the shore

Embroidered feathers, scales like rich brocade,

The land is littered with suffering birds, fish, ghostly shades


Poem 5

 The embroidered screen keeps out from in,

But this and that picture form matching pairs

How is it as I gaze above the lake,

Mandarin ducks are the only shapes?


Musical Interlude: Willow Variations for Piano by Mark O. Ndesandjo

[1] A special chessboard that was convex at the centre

[2] An indirect reference to the governor from the East who married Willow. She is compared to his native melons. Her heart has turned cold as ice because she does not love him.

Featured Image Credit

2 thoughts on “5 Poems for Willow

  1. I like this one a lot. Your story is moving, the poem heightens the feelings, and the music brings it home. I feel like I have just lived through an entire life’s saga.


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