Mezzo-soprano and piano (low key)
Soprano and piano (high key)
Sage Lutton and Tim Harrell, mezzo and piano, April, 2013
Jee Hyun Lim, soprano version, October, 2013
Steven Sametz Publications
In 1912, Ezra Pound met Mary Fenellosa, widow of Earnest Fenellosa, a scholar of east Asian studies. Mary entrusted Ernest’s notes on Chinese poetry translations to Pound. Pound did not speak Chinese, but through Fenellosa’s notes and meditating on Chinese characters of the poem (which to him were like drawings), he crafted the poems of his collection, Cathay, published in 1915. “The Rivers Merchant’s Wife,” taken from the original of Rihaku (a.k.a.Li Po), describes the maturing love of a fictional 8th-century girl as she waits for the return of her merchant husband from a business trip.I encountered “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” more than thirty years ago and have had it in mind to set ever since. It’s one of those poems that takes a long time – or its own time – to unfold. The poem balances the River Merchant’s wife’s reflections from when she was a young girl, “when my hair was still cut straight across my forehead” (the traditional style for an unmarried woman of the time), to her discovery of physical attraction (” I desired my dust to be mingled with yours”) to her emotional connection and the longing that comes with absence, as she fears that she is growing old alone in autumn. The only thing I added is the final “ah!,” an indicator not only of her longing, but of her doubt that her husband will ever return.