THE MAGPIE AT NIGHT
Farra, Straus & Giroux
A collection of translated poems by Song dynasty poet Li Qingzhao, considered one of the greatest women writers in Chinese history, whose powerful lyric voice and urgent concerns about what it means to be a woman artist resonate anew
Who is Li Qingzhao?
Learn about the Chinese woman writer who lived a thousand years ago and defied gender expectations of her day.
“My thoughts of poetry are like the magpie at night,/ circling three times, unable to settle,” writes Li Qingzhao (1084-1151) in one of her surviving fragments. Considered the greatest female poet in Chinese history, Li Qingzhao defied cultural expectations for women by mastering ci (lyrics), composing scholarly wen (essays) on a variety of subjects, writing political shi (poems) criticizing government policies, and gaining the acknowledgement of her male contemporaries for her literary and scholarly accomplishments.
Li Qingzhao is renowned particularly for her ci (lyrics), 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.
Why did you decide to translate her work?
Learn about how this collection has come together over a period of a decade.
Scholars and artists in the generations following her death have acknowledged her as a master at her craft—a status few women have ever achieved in Chinese history. Yet despite her distinguished reputation in China, she remains relatively unknown and untranslated in the West. When I first started translating her work as an undergraduate in 2011, only one translation of her complete works in English remained in print (Rexroth, 1980). Gender, I believe, plays no small part in this neglect. As part of my project, I am also interested in reclaiming Chinese/English translations as a space where Chinese and Chinese-American voices can be heard and appreciated.
Where can I read your translations?
There are several places online where you can read my translations of Li Qingzhao's work. Here's where to find them.