The White-haired Palace Maid
The Shangyang Palace maid,
Her hair grows white, her rosy cheeks grow dark and fade.
The palace gate is guarded by eunuchs in green.
How many springs have passed, immured as she has been!
She was first chosen for the imperial household
At the age of sixteen; now she’s sixty years old.
The hundred beauties brought in with her have all gone,
Flickering out through long years, leaving her alone.
She swallowed grief when she left home in days gone by,
Helped into the cab, she was forbidden to cry.
Once in the palace, she’d be favored, it was said;
Her face was fair as lotus, her bosom like jade.
But to the emperor she could never come nigh,
For Lady Yang had cast on her a jealous eye.
She was consigned to Shangyang Palace full of gloom,
To pass her lonely days and nights in a bare room.
In empty chamber long seemed each autumnal night;
Sleepless in bed, it seemed she’d never see daylight.
Dim, dim the lamplight throws her shadow on the walls;
Shower by shower on her windows chill rain falls.
Spring days drag slow;
She sits alone to see light won’t be dim and low.
She’s tired to hear the palace orioles sing and sing,
Too old to envy pairs of swallows on the wing.
Silent, she sees the birds appear and disappear,
And counts nor springs nor autumns coming year by year.
Watching the moon o’er palace again and again,
Four hundred times and more she’s seen it wax and wane.
Today the oldest honorable maid of all,
She is entitled Secretary of Palace Hall.
Her gown is tightly fitted, her shoes like pointed prows;
With dark green pencil she draws long, long slender brows.
Seeing her, outsiders would even laugh with tears;
Her old-fashioned dress has been out of date for years.
The Shangyang maid, to suffer is her fate, all told;
She suffered while still young; she suffers now she’s old.
Do you not know a satire spread in days gone by?
Today for white-haired Shangyang Palace maid we’ll sigh.
The poet pities the place maid who lived the palace from sixteen to sixty without even seeing the emperor’s face.
The White Haired Woman of Shang Yang” is a political satire written by Bai Juyi, a poet of the Tang Dynasty. By describing the forty-year-long confinement of a Shang Yang court lady, the poem reveals the tragic fate of the “three thousand beauties in the harem”, and at the same time makes a strong indictment of the feudal emperor’s sinful practice of forcibly recruiting women from the people to satisfy his own lust. The poem uses a variety of expressions such as narrative, lyricism, landscape writing and argument, with flexible rhyme and rhyme shifts, long and short stanzas, simple language and profound meaning, fully exposing the darkness of feudal society.