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Posted by on Jul 11, 2007

Harken the tears! A poem by Yuan Chen

The following is a poem from Yuan Chen, a great Chinese poet from 779-831 A.D. It is a poem of mourning, so it is a tearjerker. I enjoy the truth in the mention of their love growing stronger, the pain of loss stronger, because of their poverty, not in spite of it. That felt very real, a very human observation.

An Elegy


O youngest, best-loved daughter of Hsieh,

Who unluckily married this penniless scholar,

You patched my clothes from your own wicker basket,

And I coaxed off your hairpins of gold, to buy wine with;

For dinner we had to pick wild herbs

-And to use dry locust-leaves for our kindling..

Today they are paying me a hundred thousand

-And all that I can bring to you is a temple of sacrifice.


We joked, long ago, about one of us dying,

But suddenly, before my eyes, you are gone.

Almost all your clothes have been given away;

Your needleworok is sealed, I dare not look at it

I continue your bounty to our men and our maids

-Sometimes, in a dream, I bring you gifts . .

This is a sorrow that all mandkind must know –

But not as those know it who have been poor together.


I sit here alone, mourning for us both.

How many years do I lack now of my threescore and ten?

There have been better men than I to whom heaven denied a son,

There was a better poet than I whose dead wife could not hear him.

What have I to hope for in the darkness of our tomb?

You and I had little faith in a meeting after death

-Yet my open eyes can see all night

That lifelong trouble of your brow.
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