Some classic Chinese poems portray the grievances experienced by women in ancient Chinese history. The following three poems delve into the grievances of women in distinct ways, each offering a unique perspective.
春怨 Spring Sorrow
刘方平 （Author: Liu Fang Ping, 8th Century)
纱窗日落渐黄昏，gauze window sun set gradually dusk
金屋无人见泪痕。golden chamber no person see tear trace
寂寞空庭春欲晚，lonely lonely empty courtyard spring desire late
梨花满地不开门 pear blossom full of ground not open door
How slowly dusk descends as the sun sets beyond the muslin window
With no one in the golden chamber to see the tracks of her tears.
Oh, the loneliness of an empty courtyard when spring is almost gone
Pear blossoms cover the ground, but she won’t open the door.
赠内人 Send a gift to the palace’s singers and dancers
张诂 (Author: Zhang Gu, Tang Dynasty)
禁门宫树月痕过，forbidden door Palace tree moon trace pass
媚眼惟看宿鹭窠。charming eyes only see reside heron nest
斜拔玉钗灯影畔，slanting pull jade hairpin lamp shadow side
剔开红焰救飞蛾 reject open red flame rescue flying moth
The forbidden door, the palace trees, a last trace of moon light.
But her lovely eyes see only the heron’s nest.
In the lamp’s reflection, she takes a slanting jade pin from her hair.
And puts out the red flame to save a flying moth.
春怨 Spring Sorrow
金昌绪 (Jin Chang Xu, Tang Dynasty)
打起黄莺儿，beaten rise yellow oriole son
莫教枝上啼。no let branch on crying
啼时惊妾梦，crying time startle my dream
不得到辽西. not can arrive Liao west
Throw a rock! Chase that oriole away.
Don’t let it sit on the branch making noise
Its singing startled me out of my dream
And now I’ll never get to my husband in West Liao.
Both Liu Fang Ping and Zhang Gu’s poems delve into the grievances experienced by ladies in the Palace. In Liu’s poem, the phrase “golden chamber” derived from a famous ancient Chinese anecdote about Emperor Wu of Han, who was a brilliant and ambitious emperor but also a womanizer. His mother didn’t have high court status. Therefore, when Emperor Wu of Han was still a young prince, she arranged a marriage between her son and his cousin. The prince said that he would build her a golden chamber. The story had a miserable ending —eventually, the emperor got tired of his wife and divorced her, partially due to her inability to bear him a legitimate heir. By employing the term “golden chamber” in the poem, Liu implies that the court lady depicted was likely once a favorite of the emperor but eventually fell out of favor.
In Zhang’s poem, the discussion of a court lady’s sorrow is more implicit. By depicting the lady seeing only a heron’s nest and her subsequent action of rescuing a flying moth, Zhang effectively conveys the profound loneliness and yearning for home the woman experiences.
Jin’s poem centers around the grievances of a woman whose husband is engaged in a distant frontier battle, thousands of miles away. In the final sentence, we took a small liberty by adding the phrase “her husband” in reference to the woman’s desire to reunite with her husband in West Liao in her dream, although this phrase does not appear in the original poem. We believe that adding this phrase to our translation provides greater clarity for American readers.