The River Merchant's Wife

River Merchant tall printjpg
'The River Merchant's Wife : A Letter' ©
18 February, 2012
This painting, the first River Merchant's Wife, was inspired by a poem I learned at school when I was about 11years old.  It has stayed with me ever since.  I was captivated by it’s romance, simplicity and beauty.

'The River Merchant's Wife II : And I will come out to meet you' ©

15 November, 2017
Inspired yet again by this beautiful tale of love and romance simply told by a young woman who is waiting for the return of her beloved husband.  The idea that a poet writing in eighth century China can portray thoughts and feelings comparable to twenty-first century experience shouldn't surprise me...but it does!  This is the second painting in the series which depicts the moment when she sees that his ship is in sight and soon her beloved will be home.

River Merchant Wife IIIjpg
          'The River Merchant's Wife III : The paired butterflies are already yellow with August'  ©

3 October 2019
This is the third time I have been moved to create a work inspired by the poem I learned as a young child.  This reflective piece depicts the moment when, yearning for her husband, the young wife notices the butterflies are aging but at least they are together. Her loneliness is palpable, echoed in the vast expanse of blue sea, as she keeps vigil for his safe return.

The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter
By Ezra Pound
After Li Po

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chōkan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever, and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed
You went into far Ku-tō-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.
You dragged your feet when you went out
. By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!

The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me.
I grow older.

If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Chō-fū-Sa.

Source –
Translated by Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972) from Li Po, the Chinese poet (701-62).

Updated 15 October 2021