A Riddle and a Gift by Li Shang-yin

A brocade curtain parts: there’s
the legendary beauty, Madam Wei!

embroided quilts, meantime,
still cloak the boatman’s shoulders. . .

or think of the slow dance, Hanging Hands,
and carved jade dangling from a sash

and the fast dance, Bending Waist,
with a fluttering saffron skirt!

colors flaring from candles
a rich man never thinks to trim

and fragrance like that of the holy man
who needed no incense or perfume. . .

I dreamed I was that poor poet
who got hold of a genius’s brush:

wanting to create such leaves, such blooms,
that I could send to you

my lady of dawn clouds,
my peony.

translated by David Young

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