The Lady Chao-Chiün

BY EO YANG SIU

Song Dynasty (a.d. 960-1278)

The Court of Han which shone with beauty rare
Of high-born women dowered with faces fair,
Had one within it, yet unknown to fame,
Of lowly fortune but of gentle name.
Now every flower had spared some hue or grace
To form Chao-Chiün's divinely lovely face;
But courtier's greed had barred the Palace gate,
Which Chao-Chiün's father would not try to sate.
Nor could the maid herself her beauty flaunt,
And hold her fair name light for gold or taunt;
Her Royal Master, therefore, did but jibe
At portraits of her, painted for a bribe.
And so this peerless girl was left alone,
Who might have shared Yüen's imperial throne.
But Yen-Show's greed at last itself betrayed,
And charges grave against him were arrayed;
Then traitor-like, as harried fox, or doe,
He fled the Court to help the Northern foe;
And with true portraits of the lovely maid,
He fired the Tartar Chief his plans to aid.
Abetted by this courtier, wise and arch,
The Tartar armies crossed the Emperor's march,
And devastated all the country near,
From which the people fled in piteous fear.
The Han King, conscious of his waning power,
Now sought for terms of peace in danger's hour;
And these were granted, if, with parlance brief
The Lady Wang would wed the Tartar chief.
But ere the peerless maiden left her home,
To brave the mountains and the desert roam,
The Emperor saw her, and his heart stood still,
Yet basely feared to thwart the Tartar's will.
The silence passed, he raved in passion's whirl,
And slew the painter who had limned the girl;
But useless were such puny acts, and cruel,
Which to a burning throne were added fuel.
For how could monarch, who perceived no more,
Of things which happened near his Palace door,
Expect to force the Hun to own his sway,
Encamped in strength a thousand miles away?
And so Chao-Chiün, beneath her weary load,
With royal guards began the endless road,
Watering with tears each lowly wayside flower,
The sport, alas! of beauty's fateful power.