Thursday, June 30, 2011

From the Palace to the Yurt

It was always the lot of imperial princesses to be given in a diplomatic marriage. One day you're a pampered girl growing up in the palace in Byzantium or Beijing, and the next you're the Queen of the Bulgars. Because the Chinese emperors always worried about their relations with the lords of the great steppes that lapped against the wall on their northern border, many Chinese princesses over the centuries were sent off to become the brides of Hunnish kings or Mongol Khans. They did not enjoy this. As well educated princesses they had the skills to express their woes, and there is a whole genre of Chinese poetry we might call the Lamentations of Princesses Exiled to the Wasteland. This is Hsi-chun, around 105 BC:
My people have married me
In a far corner of Earth;
Sent me away to a strange land,
To the King of the Wu-sun.
A tent is my house,
Of felt are my walls;
Raw flesh my food
Sour mare’s milk to drink.
My heart has been burning
Since I came,
My home my only thought.
A yellow crane
Would I be,
And swiftly fly back
To my own land.

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