To the Tune of “Magpie on the Branch”

Her peony is raised high and dewed with fragrance
but his legs are too short to reach,
so he uses a small table
like a man climbing up a cloud ladder
or an old monk beating the temple drum.

His vast and gentle squashy passion,
is like a swing
swinging up and down in the courtyard
till the urge is uncontainable.
When the tree falls down,
monkeys scatter everywhere.

from Flower Encampment and Battle Formations (Ming Dynasty)


Conversation between Heart and Mouth

Thinner the day before yesterday,
even thinner yesterday,
the more I look, the thinner I become.
I sleep in the morning,
sleep in the evening,
too lazy to comb my hair.
Speaking of evening
makes me fear this evening
but now it’s evening again.
I want yet should not think about him;
I want and yet cannot push him from my mind.
With my mouth I ask my heart;
with my heart I ask my mouth.

Anonymous Poetry Collection by Feng Menglong (1574-1646)


Idiot Thoughts

My handsome fatal foe,
why are you gone so long?
I can’t stop my heart from trembling, missing you.
You put some sugar on the tip of my nose.
I cannot lick it,
though it smells so nice.
You leave something sweet behind
and let me think about it slowly.

Anonymous Poetry Collection by Feng Menglong (1574-1646)


The Poem of Huizhen

A thin moon pierces the window lattice
and firefly lights appear in the jade sky.
Where the far sky begins is all silky distance.
The low trees emerge as a dark blur of green.
Dragon songs swirl through the courtyard bamboo
as phoenix songs touch parasol trees by the well.
Thin fog descends like silk gauze.
In slight wind the sound of jade rings is heard.
The Royal Mother of the West trails a dark red train.
Her maids carry cloud-shaped jade in their hands.
Deep in the night, people all are quiet.
Our meeting is like dawn, though rain is drizzling.
Pearl light shines from her decorated shoes,
flowers peek from her embroidered clothes,
her jeweled hairpin is a colored phoenix,
and her silk shawl covers a red rainbow.
She says she’s from Yao Hua Garden
and is on pilgrimage to the Jade Emperor’s palace.
Because she took a tour to Luo City
she happened to come here, east of Song family.
When I flirt with her she resists at first.
but soft feelings already secretly connect us.
When she bows her hair it seems the shadows of cicadas move.
As she walks about her jade stocking are gilded with dust.
When she turns it’s like snowflakes swirling.
On the bed we embrace through silk
and like Mandarin ducks dance with our necks twined.
Like two kinds of jade, we go well together,
though her dark eyebrows knit frequently in shyness.
Her warm red lips feel like they are melting.
I taste her breath like a fragrant orchid,
her creamy skin, her full jade flesh.
She feels strengthless, unable to move even a wrist,
though she’s so sensitive that her body tenses.
The light of her sweat is like pearls.
Her tangled hair is loose and black.
Happiness like this comes once in a thousand years.
But now we hear the fifth beat of the night drum.
We want to stay, but time is scarce,
We are so close that it is hard to stop.
Her face is sorrow
and her words promise faithfulness.
She gives me ring to remember this time,
ties a knot, to say our hearts are twined.
Her tears drop on the mirror
and around the guttering lamp insects swirl.
The dawn light comes slowly
and the rising sun starts to show.
She flies back to Luo on the back of a crane
and plays a vertical flute on Song Mountain.
My clothes are fragrant as if dyed with musk.
There are red stains still on the pillow.
Standing in front of the grass in the pond,
my thoughts are floating far away.
I hear a harp crying and complaining like a crane.
gaze at the clear River of Stars and hope to see her crane returning.
But the ocean is too broad to cross
and the sky is too high to soar above,
so like a floating cloud with nowhere to go
I walk back inside the tower.


by Yuan Zhen (779-831)

Tony Barnstone is a professor of English at Whittier College. Among his recent books are Impure: Poems (1999), The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry (2005), and Sad Jazz: Sonnets (October 2005). His forthcoming book is Chinese Erotic Poetry (Everyman, 2008). His website is

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