While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about 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-fo-Sa.
Commentary: There is something so beautiful and well-expressed in this poem, this interior monologue of the soul, penned in English by Ezra Pound in imitation of Li Po. Li Po (or Li Bai) is an extraordinarily famous 8th c. Chinese poet, known as one of the “Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup,” and more than 1000 of his poems survive today. Ezra Pound translated “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” from the Japanese translation that was made from the Chinese original. As literary history shows, Ezra Pound not only translated the words in Li Po’s poem but the ideas that shaped modern poetry in English.
Ezra Pound was deeply influenced by east Asian poetry and philosophy, and one his most famous poems reflects the influence of the haiku masters of Japan in its brevity and concentrated imagery:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
petals on a wet, black bough.
It is remarkable to look at earlier drafts of this poem and see that it was once quite long, but Ezra Pound cut it down to two lines, so that in its brevity, it might convey something essential.