Zhuo Wenjun: Love of Countless
Translated by Yiyan Han (c) 2021-02-27
Being apart from the day one,
crave for each other in two distant places.
Promised only to live separately for three or four months,
but heaven knows it’s already been for five to six years.
No mood to play my seven-string zither,
and to no one I can send my eight-line poems.
The nine-interconnected-rings shattered for no reason,
and look so eagerly afar through the ten-mile pavilion.
With hundred times of longing,
thousand times of worrying,
I murmur your name ten-thousand times, but it’s helpless moaning.
Ten-thousand words and thousand letters aren’t enough to utter,
being bored hundred times and leaning ten times a day on baluster.
On the double-nine day, alone on the top of hill, stare at the lonely flying goose, (1)
and envy the round reunion moon, on my own, on the day of mid-eighth month. (2)
Burning incense and holding candles, pray to the Heaven on the day of mid-seventh month, (3)
and my heart is so cold that I dare not wave the cattail leaf fan in the hot sixth month.
Pomegranate in the month five is red like flame,
and it’s heartbroken to see its delicate petals are hit by cold rain;
In the fourth month loquat isn’t yet yellow,
my turmoil heart refuses to look in the mirror.
Hustle and bustle, in the month three peach flowers spin in the river;
Wandering and drifting, the month two kite falls with broken string.
O alas! My beloved husband, I pray to Buddha and wish ⸺
In our rebirth of the next one, you’d be a woman, and me a man!
Zhuo Wenjun (卓文君) was a Chinese poetess in the Western Han dynasty, ~200 BC. This poem is often called “Poem of Numbers” in Chinese literature. As the legend goes, it was a return letter to her husband, Sima Xiangru (司馬相如) who was a famous intellect (also a poet) and then worked away from home as a government officer, after she received a cold letter from him. In his letter, her husband heartlessly wrote only a string of numbers from one to ten-thousand (萬) without the ending one-hundred-million (億), the biggest number at that time. “Without (無) one-hundred-million (億)” in Chinese pronunciation, wu-yi, is the same as that of 無意, which means “not fancy, not interested etc”. In other words, his letter dropped a hint of that he wanted to leave her. The story had a happy ending, however, that, on receiving his wife’s poem of numbers, he felt so shameful that he rushed back home and took his wife with him. The couple stayed married and lived a good life ever after.
The title “Love of Countless” is added by the translator to reflect the author’s deep love expressed for her husband. There are some slightly different Chinese versions out there, and the version I use for this translation is the one published on https://www.aboluowang.com/2015/0227/520312.html
All the months in this poem are lunar ones in the Chinese calendar.
- Double Ninth Festival, September 9th, also known as Double Yang Festival, traditionally worshipping ancestors, also climbing and hiking.
- Mid-Autumn Festival, August 15th, also known as Moon-cake Festival, for family reunion.
- Ghost Festival, July 15th, also known as Hungry Ghost Festival, traditionally for offering food to deceased ancestors or other spirits.