(Gu Ruopu)

: 11 2006

"Endless Longing ..." and "Early Chrysanthemums"

Gu Ruopu (1592-ca. 1681)

"Endless Longing: Did Spring Come First?"


Did spring come first?
Or did sorrow come first?
Young orioles deliberately
   call out in new-leaved groves.
Spiritless, she cradles her zither.


Did sorrow come first?
Or did spring come first?
Gay flowers, rioting butterfllies
   and a sinuous east wind.
She picks one, but
   the flowers understand.


Having a special love
   for the gold blooms that come early,
I have transplanted their fragrance
   to the innermost courtyard.
When all the other flowers
   have been blown away,
They rise brilliant and proud
   under the frosts of autumn.

[trans. Maureen Robertson]

Gu Ruopu was born in present-day Hangzhou; she married a Renhe scholar named Huan Maowu, who died in 1619. After his death, she was renowned for her chastity and filiality (302).

"In prose and poetry she displayed the straightforward vividness of the Jian'an period at the end of the Han, tempered with a bent for Du Fu's later verse of the Dali period" (303).

She was apparently quite a student of dynastic history, and contemporaries remarked on how it colored her poetry. She was often compared (frequently favorably) to her near-contemporary
ۋV Fang Weiyi.

Certainly her poetry has a much different feel than that of
ۋV; I don't know that one is necessarily better than the other, but "Early Chrysanthemums" (e) is one of my favorite poems, and takes up a a mere vertical column of text in a Qing printing of her poetry. I think you see an interesting cross section of elite life in the Ming-Qing period through her, even just browsing the titles of her poems: "Moved to Deep Distress" (after her husband's death and later that of her mother), "When I Hired a Teacher to Instruct the Girls, Someone Ridiculed Me, So as a Joke I have Written This Retort to Explain Matters" (a mouthful, but a self-explanatory one at that), "Refurbishing a Boat for My Son, Can, to Use as a Study."

On a related note, I've got to say that McGill's
Ming Qing Women's Writings Digitization Project is just incredible & even though I can't READ most of this stuff at ALL, I've been having fun checking out what the original Chinese printings of these poems look like. It's also a bit of an inspiration (aka "Oh, so THAT'S why I'm putting myself through hell at the ICLP").


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