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in her quiet window

wang changling

too young to know what sorrow is, and
dressed for spring, to her bedroom chamber she climbs, and
as the budding green willow wounds her heart
she wonders why, just for a title, she sent him to war

The actual title is, in her quiet window, but I like too young to know what sorrow is.

A young wife encourages her new husband to join the Tang army and go off and fight the enemy at the border. The expectation is that he will return with honors. Most likely, the enemy were the Tibetans at the far west of the Chinese Empire or the Tartars to the north, but there were other enemies both foreign and internal with which the emperor had to dear with.

Wang Changling, the Tang poet, deals with the contradictory emotions of love and pride. The young wife’s pride in the rank and title her husband achieves if he is heroic is balanced with the risk in his death.

I have played around with the words and the rhyme and though incomparable with Wang Changling’s poetic gift, I hope I conveyed some sense of his meaning. Wang’s use of the willow is symbolic. In China, the willow branch is used to ward off evil spirits. More ominously, mourners carry willow branches with them on the way to the cemetery during the Qingming Festival, which, like our poem, takes place in early spring. It is a festival that loosely translates as Tomb-Sweeping festival.

Then too, in Mandarin, “willow” sounds the same as “to stay”.

Does she care?

Original Chinese





王昌龄 〔唐代〕

闺中少妇不知愁,春日凝妆上翠楼。(不知 一作:不曾)













Wang Changling, a poet of the Tang Dynasty, wrote a boudoir grievance poem about the psychological changes of high-class ladies when they enjoyed spring. In the early Tang Dynasty, the national strength was strong. To join the army and make contributions to the frontier fortress has become an important way for people to “find marquis”. The “young lady in the boudoir” and her husband in the poem are also full of fantasies about this road.
The title is called “boudoir grievance”, but at the beginning, it said that “the young women in the boudoir never worry”, which seems to deliberately violate the title. In fact, the author wrote this way to show the psychological change process of this young lady from “never worried” to “regret”. My husband, who has been on an expedition and has been away for years, should be worried. Apart from the fact that the heroine was young and had not experienced many life twists and turns, and was relatively well-off (as can be seen from the next sentence, “Make up to go to Cuilou”), the fundamental reason for “never worrying” was the atmosphere of that era. Under the influence of the time fashion of “looking for marquis” at that time, the “looking for marquis” and his “young ladies” were full of romantic fantasies about this life path. Judging from the last sentence “repenting of teaching”, this young woman may even have played a role in helping her husband “find a marquis”. It is entirely reasonable for a young woman who is optimistic about her life and future to “never worry” for a period of time.
The first sentence is “never worry”, and the second sentence is followed by a specific demonstration of her “never worry” with the action of climbing the stairs in spring to enjoy the scenery. One spring morning, she went up to her own tall building after a lot of careful dressing. Climbing upstairs with makeup in spring, of course, is not for relieving depression (why bother with makeup), but for enjoying the spring scenery. This sentence describes the joy of young women’s youth, which is just for the next period of youth’s emptiness, youth’s hatred and broadness.
The third sentence is the key to the whole poem, which is called “the eye of poetry”. What the young woman saw was nothing but ordinary willows. Why did the author call it “sudden seeing”? In fact, the key to the poem is the association and psychological changes triggered by seeing willows. In the eyes of the ancient people, willows were not only a substitute for “spring scenery”, but also a gift given by friends when they left. The ancient people had the custom of giving away willows long ago. Because the confused and hazy willow catkins have some internal similarities with people’s sorrow for parting. Therefore, when young women see willows swayed by the spring wind, they will definitely associate a lot with them. She will think of the love between husband and wife in ordinary days, the deep feelings when parting with her husband, and the beautiful years that have passed away year by year in solitude, while no one enjoys the beautiful spring scenery with her… Maybe she will also think of the border that her husband guards, whether it is the yellow sand is long or the willows are green like home? After the association of this moment, the deep resentment, sadness of separation and regret that had been deposited for a long time in the young woman’s heart suddenly became strong and became irreversible. “Regret to teach my husband to find a marquis” becomes a natural emotion. Speaking of “sudden seeing”, it is obvious that willow color is just a medium and an external cause to trigger the emotional changes of young women. Without her usual emotional savings, her hopes and helplessness, her sorrow and sorrow, willows would not touch her “regret” feelings so strongly. Therefore, the young woman’s emotional changes seem to be sudden, but they are not sudden, but reasonable.
Originally, I was going to make up and go upstairs to watch the spring scenery, but it turned out to cause a deep resentment. This change happened so quickly and suddenly, as if it was hard to understand. Here is the advantage of poetry: it vividly shows the rapid change of young women’s psychology, but does not tell the specific reasons and process of the change, leaving enough room for imagination for readers to ponder.
Short stories often capture a cross section of life and focus on it, so that readers can see the whole leopard from this cross section. Jueju is similar to short stories in this point. This poem captures the moment of subtle psychological changes of the young women in the boudoir and makes a concentrated description, so as to glimpse the whole process from the moment. ▲

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