Modern people are able to know the marriage life of the poetess of Southern Song Dynasty, Lee Ching-Jao, and her husband, Zhao Ming-Cheng, from those famous poems of boudoir sadness, written by Lee herself. However, few people know the anecdote about their "marriage foretold in dream", in which child-Zhao dreamed he would be a "poetess' husband". Although it could not be taken serious, there were somewhat mysterious touches giving to the couple. For the society in which "marriages were arranged by matchmakers" then, theirs was rather a legendary romance instead.
The marriage life of a litterateur is always more colorful and sentimental than that of common people. Especially for Lee, she was a sensitive boudoir maid with a gift in poetry, and after she got married with like-minded Zhao, she developed further her poetic talent of boudoir sadness school, writing numerous deep-feeling and touching ci (Song lyrics). Although such colorful literary works were indeed inspired by Zhao's never-changing love, the profoundly-devoted poetess herself demonstrated that, her spontaneous love was an endless source for poetry.
Basically, the nature of the poetry of boudoir sadness is single-sided feeling expression. It is a kind of "giving" rather than "receiving" process. Not long after they got married, Zhao left home for his official mission, and because Lee deeply missed him, she wrote a poem entitled "Plum Blossom Twings" for him:
Fading away the lotus fragrance, the autumn on the precious mat.
With slightly opened silken gown,
Entering alone the magnolia boat.
Out from the clouds whose silken letter?
Gone the wild-geese passage,
Just full-moon by the pavilion in the west.
Blossoms themselves falling, water carrying itself off.
At one the longing,
On two places the parting grief.
Longing and grief, nothing can release them.
Barely out of the brow
Are they at once in heart.
( Cited from The Three Poet Kings Li)
This poem clearly expressed her loneliness in the chamber accompanied by emptiness, and also conveyed her spontaneous feelings towards Zhao. Doubtless, this traditional woman, being deeply lovesick for her husband-lover, psychologically possessed a state of self-satisfaction and consummation. Thus, with expectation, her husband promised her undying love at the same time.
The happy marriage of Lee and Zhao is due to their similar inclination and interest in literary world. They both treasured the spiritual over the material. When Zhao went into retreat at his hometown in Shandong because of political events, devoting himself to the study of bronze and stone inscriptions, Lee followed him. Hence they accompanied each other as lovers and as friends, living a secluded life for ten years.
Here we can see obviously that, they enjoyed marital harmony and love very much.
Sadly, Zhao died when Lee was only 46 years old. Suddenly, the very person on whom her life and sentiment depended was taken away. Moreover, the outside world (Song Dynasty was suffering from Northern invasion at the time) was changing, which let her feel disastrous and unhappy. Having indulged herself into the sorrows for her ruined country, Lee naturally recalled, though in vain, the tranquil and joyful past hours, the time she spent with her husband when they still lived in their homeland. So she wrote another poem "Spring at Wu-ling", saying:
The wind subsides--a fragrance
of petals freshly fallen;
It's late in the day--I'm too tired
to comb my hair.
Things remain but he is gone
and with him everything.
On the verge of words: tears flow.
I hear at Twin Creek spring it's still lovely;
how I long to float there on a small boat--
But I fear at Twin Creek my frail "grasshopper" boat
could not carry this load of grief.
(Tr. Eugene Eoyang)
Although her love had passed away, and she insufferably looked back at the bygones, Lee's feelings towards Zhao continued streaming like a fresh creek during her miserable old age. As modern people, we ought not to see Lee, in term of rigid old-social standard, as a woman who got married with only one husband to the end like those old-fashioned ones. Instead, we should appreciate our great poetess, with a modern view, that she celebrated free love under the heavy pressure within an old marriage system, and she really fell in love with Zhao, rather than just served as a sacrifice under the institutional bondage of it.
As to the rumor about her second marriage, judging from the noble character of the poetess herself, it should be baseless. If we replace the story of Lee on the modern scene, she may become the celebrity, for whom the media intend to make up a notorious rumor. For a noble woman who pursues real love, it is doubtless denigration rather than truth.
Appreciating one poem:
"Plum Blossom Twigs" ( the poem cited in the article above)
The newly-wed, Lee Ching-Jao and Zhao Ming-Cheng, loved each other deeply. This poem was written when they are apart, not long after their honey-moon; it showed so much missing and longing for her husband. It was autumn, and the weather with sentimental atmosphere easily aroused her grief. The elements of nature, such as lotus, birds, moon, flowers, water, cloud…all conveyed an understatement of her feelings towards her husband. Although she herself kept silent in appearance, her inner world spoke through those outside scenery. Thus, the poem itself reached an artistic state by mixing the inner thoughts and outside scenes. The heroine in poem was a typical orient tender beauty with genteel character, which was cultivated by a noble family. And the diction of poem is precise and careful, forming a "smallness" and "lightness" style, which was just the characteristic of Song lyrics.