Wang Wei: Xi Fu Ren

Xi Fu Ren

息 夫 人、
莫 以 今 时 宠
能 忘 旧 日 恩。
看 花 满 眼 泪
不 共 楚 王 言。

 

Xi Fu Ren

Mo yi jin shi chong
Neng wang jiu ri en.                                                                                                                Kan hua man yan lei
Bu gong chu wang yan.

 

Xi Fu Ren

Do not use this time to dote on her
Unable to forget past days of favor.                                                                          While looking at flowers, eyes completely full of tears
Cannot share conversations with the Chu emperor.

 

Notes:

Xi Fu Ren refers to Xiwei, the wife of an ancient warlord during the Spring and Autumn Period of the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-476 BC). As a result of losing a battle with a neighboring warlord, all of the warlord’s family was killed, except for Xiwei, who is forced into being the wife of the victorious warlord. With the passage of time they had two sons together. But Xiwei only spoke when first spoken to by her new husband. He asks her why. She replied that she is living in shame by living with him, and that it would have been better to have been killed along with her original husband.

The second part of the story involves the Tang emperor Xuanzong, the emperor in 720 AD when Wang Wei wrote this poem. The emperor’s brother, Ning Wang, had been appointed governor of one of the empire’s provinces. One day Ning Wang saw the beautiful wife of a poor bread merchant. He took her away from her husband and made her his wife. After several months he asked her if she missed her original husband. She said nothing. Ning Wang, realizing the depth of her sorrow and pain, sent for her husband to visit her. He watched them in secret, and realized from the amount of her tears, that she really doesn’t love him, but loves her first husband instead.

Later, some of Wang Wei’s friends met to drink wine and write poetry, round-robin style (lian shi). After discussing Ning Wang and the situation with his new “wife”, the first line is written by a man close to the emperor. Because of its’ political and social implications, the rest of the gathering refused to continue the poem, for fear that word would get back to the emperor. Wang Wei’s friends told him about the meeting and shared the first line with him. Wang Wei read the first line, and then composed the final three lines.

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