Proud Fisherman by Li Qingzhao, translated by Wendy Chen

The clouds, spread like waves
across the sky, tumble
into the morning fog.

The star river turns.
A thousand sails dance.

As in a dream,
my soul is carried
before the Emperor
of Heaven
who asks politely
where I will go.

My journey is long, I say,
and the sun is setting.
I’ve studied poetry and attempted
astonishing phrases—
to no use.

Let the roc of ninety thousand li
raise a great wind.

Wind, move again.
Blow my boat
to the island of immortals.
Li Qingzhao (1084-1151) is considered the greatest female poet in Chinese history, though only one English translation of her complete works remains in print today. During her lifetime, she defied cultural expectations for women by writing and persevering through war, exile, imprisonment, and the loss of her fortune. She is renowned particularly for her ci, which are poems set to music with predetermined meters and tones. During the Southern Song Dynasty, her ci were gathered into a collection titled Rinsing over Jade that has since been lost.
Wendy Chen was awarded the Most Promising Young Poet Prize by the Academy of American Poets in 2014. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Crazyhorse, American Poets, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The McNeese Review, Copper Nickel, and the anthology Translations from World Literature, among others. Currently, she is pursuing an MFA in poetry at Syracuse University.