"In Broad Daylight I Dream of My Dead Wife"

  • A poem by Mei Yao Ch’en
  • Translated by Kenneth Rexroth

Who says that the dead do not think of us?

Whenever I travel, she goes with me.

She was uneasy when I was on a journey.

She always wanted to accompany me.

While I dream, everything is as it used to be.

When I wake up, I am stabbed with sorrow.

The living are often parted and never meet again.

The dead are together as pure souls.

Mei Yao Ch’en (1002–1060) was a Sung Dynasty poet whose work often focused on social reform. But he was also a distinctly personal poet who wrote about the death of his wife and the death of two of his children. A major figure in Chinese poetry, Mei Yao Ch’en felt that the late T’ang poetry had focused too heavily on descriptive landscape imagery and too little on the reality of people’s lives. His poems, largely free of rhetorical excess, tended to be written in a language that was deceptively simple and colloquial.

It is not at all surprising that the great American poet Kenneth Rexroth (1905–1982) would find Mei Yao Ch’en’s poetry to his taste, for Rexroth, a superb craftsman and notable scholar, also wrote a poetry that, against the grain of American modernism, was simple, clear, and highly autobiographical. This translation of “In Broad Daylight I Dream of My Dead Wife” appears in Rexroth’s One Hundred Poems from the Chinese, published by New Directions Press, and is reprinted by permission.

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