My hair still in bangs, I played outside the front gate,
picking flowers. You came by, high on a bamboo hobby-horse,
then sat playing with our green plums. We lived like this
together in Changgan, two little ones, no jealousy, no distrust.
At fourteen, I married you. So shy my face
never opened up, I just lowered my head
and watched the dark wall. You called to me
a thousand times, but I never answered your call.
At fifteen, I answered, looked up, unfurrowed, wanted
to mingle together, even past our mortal days, wanted
forever, knew we would cling faithfully to our moorings.
So why climb the watchtower looking for you?
But at sixteen, you left. You went far away, to Yanyudui,
where churning waters crash the rocky shores.
For five months now, no you. All of nature echoes
the gibbons, crying out in sorrow.
Outside our gate your footprints fill with moss, each step too deep to be
erased. Too early, leaves fall in rough autumn wind. It’s only
August, yet the butterflies lose color. Still, they fly
in pairs to the Western Garden, as I pale, too, aging. They hurt me
so much, sitting here. If you are on your way, please
send word when. If you have passed the fast currents
of the Yangtze, I will think nothing of the distance—
I’ll come all the way to Changfengsha to meet you again.
Li Bai (701–762) was one of the great masters of Tang poetry, a wanderer and also a creator and re-shaper of some of the era’s formal conventions. This poem, among Li Bai’s most renowned, is classed as a huaigu theme, “remembering the past,” and is typical of Tang shi poetry, featuring pentasyllabic couplets densely interwoven with parallelisms, puns, internal rhymes, and allusions. The original, when calligraphed in classical Chinese characters, forms a neat rectangle of fifteen such couplets.