She was well connected in circles of Qing women poets. She was one of the proofreaders for the poet Wang Duan’s important anthology of poetry Ming sanshi jia shixuan; she was a friend of Gu Taiqing, and she is known to have corresponded with the poet and playwright Liang Desheng.
She wrote a series of poems entitled “Autumn Geese,” which became so famous in her lifetime that she was sometimes referred to as the Autumn Goose Poet.
This poem, for an unknown painting by an unknown artist, was published in 1801.
Li Kan reads the poem in Chinese.
In Night Rain at Xiaoxiang–A Poem on a Picture on Burying Flowers
Rain and wind, flowers and grass–
A dream of love, who has sympathy?
In the misty courtyard, catkins look like smoke.
Many turn into colorful clouds and disperse.
Quietly looking down at her troubles, those from attachments,
At the place to bury sadness
And sweep away old resentments,
To give to the willing cuckoo.
The weather that makes a person thin,
The season where flowers fall,
Youth flowing away like water,
I think of her sickness coming upon her
As she quietly stands by the balustrade.
How many tears drop on the letters?
How much green resentment and red ruins?
Silk threads swirling,
Beautiful, youthful years, hard to find.
Secret thoughts are expressed on the curved eyebrows.
Notes on the poem
The poem begins with a series of four reduplicatives: wind, wind; rain, rain; flowers, flowers; grass, grass. Reduplicatives occur throughout the poem: 濛濛 at the beginning of the fifth line and 閒閒 at the beginning of the seventh. These are hard to render into English.
The phrase that Widmer has translated as “a dream of love” 一番春夢 literally means “a spring dream,” which does mean a dream of love. The seasonal aspect–that it is springtime–also matters in the poem. The second stanza (in Widmer’s division of the poem) begins with the phrase “The weather that makes a person thin” (瘦人天氣) which refers to autumn.
The phrases “bury sadness” and “sweep away old resentments” (埋愁地，掃將舊恨) refer to the scene where Daiyu buried flowers. Xiaoxiang 瀟湘 refers to Daiyu; it is the name of her residence. It is possible that “willing cuckoo” 啼鵑 refers to Daiyu’s loyal maid Zijuan 紫鵑 (which David Hawkes translates as Nightingale.)
Translation from Widmer, Beauty and the Book, 145-46. Additional poems by Li Peijin have been translated in Saussy and Chang, 566-72. For information on Li and translations of some of her work into German, see this website.