Saturday, 23 July 2016

Relic Environments Trilogy: Book I, Part 2. Introduction. i-iii

Revelations of a Lesser Wife

Yu Xuanji [魚玄機] was born in Xian, c 844. Traditionally, she was described as an experienced courtesan who became concubine, or “lesser wife”, to Li Yi, a minor civil servant who later abandoned her. She eventually returned to Xian, living there in reduced circumstances. Later, she became a Taoist priestess in the Xian Yi Temple.

Quasi-historical accounts suggest that she met her death by execution c 871, following the murder of a Temple novice. The lurid details of events surrounding her death were not extant until several years after the event, and the inclusion of her poems as curiosities (poems by ghosts, poems by women, et al.) in anthologies of the later T’ang period, indicate that there may have been promotional elements in the account.

The selections here have been adapted from the surviving poems and fragments. 


River Willows

The sky in the river, the image of itself, calm, blue

Cloud city

Along worn banks, other images, so still

From time to time the fisherman nods

Fallen flowers, root dens, the fish there motionless

Travellers resting

A boat tied off to low branches
Night coming, rustling the water

Wind and rain, what I see in my dreams
Leaves me unsettled        

My Lady Neighbour

The sun finds us as we are
Warming our gauzy sleeves

No make-up

This is as close as we get to gold
Or steady lovers

Working in the flowers
Days go by

We save our tears for ourselves

Friends with great poets
We agree such admiration
Will do


Morning and night, every spring
Desire, drunk with it

A messenger in the rain
A love letter

Below the open window, someone

In the mountains, a view beyond the pearl-set screen

Deep grassy scents recalled in sadness

Walking home after dark, after feasts
When festivals end, noticing from the rooftree
Dust drifting down



  1. Sorry I'm not more knowledgeable of your work, so please indulge me.

    Am I to understand these are your translations of Yu Xuanji [魚玄機] poetry from the Middle Chinese, Mandarin ...? Have you learned those languages, others?

  2. No, there are one or two 'transliterations' that I used as a baseline to make 'new' poems. They seem to have been seen as fit for purpose as some of them were subsequently lifted for an anthology of Chinese poems without permission either from me or Cinnamon Press.

  3. Who published the anthology? I assume you have copyright on your works ...?

  4. Author accreditation. Publisher wrote to express concern that permission had not been sought. All small press drama.