The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter

The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter
by Li Bai, translated by Ezra Pound

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse;
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the lookout?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.
You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden --
They hurt me.
I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
     As far as Cho-fo-Sa.


  • From Monroe, Harriet and Henderson, Alice Corbin (editors) (1917). The New Poetry: An Anthology, (Macmillan, New York).
  • Various footnotes are added to this poem in various sources:
    • Translated by Ezra Pound from the notes of the late Ernest Fenollosa, with the decipherings of Professors Mori and Araga.
    • from the Chinese poem by Li Po (in The New Poetry: An Anthology (1917))
    • By Rihaku (in Lustra of Ezra Pound, with Earlier Poems (1917))

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.

The author died in 1972, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 30 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.