chinese love poetry

to celebrate chinese new year these two days before valentine’s day, and to continue this series of articles about love, let us enjoy chinese poet kuan tao-sheng’s words about love in married life. she lived from 1262 to 1319 but her words are timeless:blog-orientalgallery-chinese-paintings-0006.jpg

you and i
have so much love,
that it
burns like a fire,
in which we bake a lump of clay
molded into a figure of you
and a figure of me.
then we take both of them,
and break them into pieces,
and mix the pieces with water,
and mold again a figure of you,
and a figure of me.
i am in your clay.
you are in my clay.
in life we share a single quilt.
in death we will share one coffin.

(translation by kenneth rexroth)

one of the deepest human yearnings is connectedness, true connectedness. we have this deep longing to be irrevocably linked to another body, another soul. this is, i guess, what inspires the long-term companionship of marriage. marriage is not only about procreating and raising children. marriage has the potential to go much deeper. apparently that was so even in 13th century china. this is interesting because sociologists sometimes have us believe that marriage inspired by romantic love, love that is driven primarily by emotions and only secondarily by physical passions (and very little by money or other social considerations), is a product of medieval europe.

as kuan tao-sheng shows. this deep desire for love, to be one with another on all levels, crosses all times and all boundaries. and how lovely to see that she fulfilled her desire. her beautiful words give wings and hope to all who long to be married, and to those who have entered this bond between two people.

i am in your clay.
you are in my clay.

related articles:

martin buber’s “i and thou”
going to a place that is love
valentine’s day: freedom to marry day

14 thoughts on “chinese love poetry

  1. Pingback: you » change therapy - isabella mori

  2. isabella mori

    this last comment is obviously a spam comment, an uninvited advertising guest. i’d like to keep it there, though, and the reason is the name, “mold remover”. rather than throwing out mold remover as trash, let’s welcome her/him and say thanks for removing the mold. is it too much of a stretch to say that i think of the beautiful image of marriage that kuan tao-sheng presents as one of eternal freshness, one that definitely isn’t overgrown by mold?

  3. Jen

    Thanks for that comment – I’ve been compiling a whole bunch of quotes and poems about love and marriage, and this is the first time I’ve come across this one.

    It’d be great to read as part of a couples wedding vows .

  4. Allen

    Tthanks ! Enjoyed!
    by the way , do you have any idea where I can get more Chinese painting web? (not form Chinese artists)

  5. isabella mori

    hi allen, and thanks for dropping by. not sure whether i understand your question … ?

    yes, jen, isn’t this a beautiful poem? interestingly enough, this is one of my top posts. i imagine it’s quite well known in china.

  6. Jan Hanekom

    Hi there, I am married to a wonderful Chinese lady for the past three years. I have recently started this website and was wondering if I can recite this poem somewhere on my site? I was searching for some love poems and I came accross your blog. Best regards, Jan

  7. RedneckPeril

    I don’t know if the person who asked for the Chinese version is still interested, but here it is in the traditional script (if you want the simplified, you can find that as well at the following link — which I hasten to add is NOT my own blog: here. It is, unsurprisingly, better in Chinese (though the translation here is quite good) — terser, since Chinese (like Russian) requires fewer words than English does to say the same thing, and therefore with more punch.

    But the best thing is the story behind this poem. Tao-Cheng’s husband was considering taking a young concubine (!! normal for the time, though). But instead of throwing a fit and getting furious with him and tossing dishes around or anything like that, Tao-Cheng simply wrote this poem…and once he heard this poem, her husband never for the rest of their lives said another word about getting a concubine. And who can blame him?


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