The Fair Maiden – When Art Meets Poetry

The Fair Maiden
by Cao Zhi (192 – 232 AD)

Alluring and sky, stands a fair maiden,
Gathering mulberry leaves at the crossroads.
The tender twigs rustle;
The leaves fall one by one.
How white her hands as she bares her arms,
A gold bracelet round her wrist!
On her head a golden sparrow hairpin;
At her waist a green jade pendant,
While encompassing her lovely form,
Pearls, coral and blue glass beads.
In the breeze, her silk blouse flutters
And her light skirt flows.
Glances reveal her shining eyes;
Sighs her breath, orchid sweet.
Travellers en route halt their carriages;
Those resting forget their refreshment.
If someone asks where she lives,
Her home is in the south of the city.
A green, storied house by the highway,
With a high gate and double bars.
Radiant as the morning sun,
Who could not admire her beauty?
Why aren’t the matchmakers busy?
Where are the silk and jade betrothal gifts?
This fair maiden longs for a worthy lover;
Yet how hard to find a fitting mate.
In vain people make suggestions,
Ignorant of her ideal.
Wasting her youth away in her home,
At midnight she awakes and sighs.

《美女篇》曹植 (192 – 232 AD)

美女妖且闲,采桑歧路间。
柔条纷冉冉,叶落何翩翩!
攘袖见素手,皓腕约金环。
头上金爵钗,腰佩翠琅玕。
明珠交玉体,珊瑚间木难。
罗衣何飘摇,轻裾随风还。
顾盼遗光彩,长啸气若兰。
行徒用息驾,休者以忘餐。
借问女安居?乃在城南端。
青楼临大路,高门结重关。
容华耀朝日,谁不希令颜,
媒氏何所营?玉帛不时安。
佳人慕高义,求贤良独难。
众人徒嗷嗷,安知彼所观。
盛年处房室,中夜起长叹。

This idyllic poem by Cao Zhi (192 – 232 AD) vividly described a beautiful young woman gathering mulberry leaves whilst her beauty creating a scene and stopping traffic.
The five-character verse is terse and tidy, the narrative is smooth and seemless.

Cao Zhi was a prince of the State of Wei, and the third son of Cao Cao in the Three Kingdoms period of China. Cao Zhi was best remembered as a literary genius, his five character poems were held in high esteem for their role in the transition from folk lyrics to scholarly poetry in Chinese literature history.

Cao Zhi failed to succeed his father Cao Cao as the ruler of the state of Wei, his brother Cao Pi was chosen instead as the heir to the throne. Cao Zhi was soon to be banished from the court by his jealous brother who was said to be envious of Cao Zhi’s literary talent.

Cao Zhi allegedly composed a ‘Seven-step poem’ about the devastation and helplessness over his fate.

煮豆燃豆萁, Cooking beans on a fire of beanstalks,
豆在釜中泣。 The beans weep in the pot.
本是同根生, Born of the same roots,
相煎何太急? Why the eagerness to destroy one another?

Characteristic of his poetic style, ‘The Fair Maiden’ could well be alluding to the poet himself. Cao Zhi’s situation is in a way parallel to that of the fair maiden who, albeit exceptionally beautiful, could not find a compatible man in her life; whilst the poet, although exceptionally talented, couldn’t find a worthy position in his life.

The new classic style illustrations were romantic in nature, with emphasis on Chinese classical style elements, gave a melancholy tone reminiscent of an era long gone by.