Du Fu

(712 - 770 / Henan Province / China)

A Woman Of Quality


Matchless in breeding and beauty,
a fine lady has taken refuge
in this forsaken valley.
She is of good family, she says,
but her fortune has withered away;
now she lives as the grass and trees.
When the heartlands fell to the rebels
her brothers were put to death;
birth and position availed nothing--
she was not even allowed
to bring home their bones for burial.
The world turns quickly against
those who have had their day--
fortune is a lamp-flame
flickering in the wind.
Her husband is a fickle fellow
who has a lovely new woman.
Even the vetch-tree is more constant,
folding its leaves every dusk,
and mandarin ducks
always sleep with their mates.
But he has eyes only
for his new woman's smile,
and his ears are deaf
to his first wife's weeping.
High in the mountains
spring water is clear as truth,
but when it reaches the lowlands
it is muddied with rumor.
Her serving-maid returns
from selling her pearls;
she drags a creeper over
to cover holes in the roof.
The flowers the lady picks
are not for her hair,
and the handfuls of cypress
are a bitter stay against hunger.
Her pretty blue sleeves
are too thin for the cold;
as evening falls
she leans on the tall bamboo.

Submitted: Thursday, April 08, 2010
Edited: Monday, May 09, 2011

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