Yüan Chên Laments His Young Wife who died in an epidemic


You were the youngest, and the one best loved by your father,

Everything went wrong the moment you married me.

You ransacked wardrobes when I was in need of clothes,

And sold your gold hairpin to buy me drinks.

At your meals you made do with wild vegetables;

For your firewood you depended on locust leaves.

Though my pay today is more than a hundred thousand,

All I can give you is sacrificial offerings.


We joked before about what came after death;

Today all this rose before my eyes.

Nearly all your clothes have been given away;

Your sewing box remains, but I cannot bear to open it.

I still think of our old affection

And take pity on the male and female servants;

I know indeed that this misfortune is shared by all,

But it is worse for couples who have been poor

And for whom everything is tinged with sadness.


When I sit at leisure, I feel sad for you and me.

How long, how long, can a hundred years last?

Têng Yu knew it was his fate not to have a son;

P’an Yüeh used many words to mourn his wife.

What could we hope for even if interred together?

To expect to meet only in another life is hard.

All I can do is keep my eyes wide open

In the middle of the night, hour after hour,

To requite the knitted brows of your whole lifetime.

Yüan Chên (Zhen) 779-831 A.D. was one of the great poets of the Tang dynasty. This lament is for his wife who died young, apparently in an epidemic. Têng Yu, fleeing a rebel army, abandoned his son to save his nephew, whom he had promised to protect. P’an Yüeh’s elegy for his wife is one of the most famous poems of the Tang. This translation is from the bilingual edition “One Hundred and One Chinese Poems” by Shih Shun Liu, Hong Kong University Press, 1968, pp.100-1

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