Thursday, August 21st, 2014
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c. 400 / China

Midsummer Night

I
Tunic gathered loose and sash untied,
I put on eyebrows and go to a window.
A gauze skirt’s grace is light and airy:
if it slips open, blame a spring breeze.

II
Radiant winds pour through moonrise.
Forests unfurl a brocade of blossoms.
Under a spring moon, we play at love,
trailing gauze sleeves deep in shadow.

III
Spring forests so seductive in bloom,
spring birds such grief, and spring
winds bring all that and yes, much
more breezing my gauze robes open.

IV
Tempted by blossoms, a spring moon,
I wander streets and lanes, and smile.
So many I meet ache to get me naked.
Too bad they don’t think they should.

V
How many nights since I put up my hair?
Long and silky, it spills over my shoulders
and sprawls beautifully across his knees.
There’s nowhere its sympathies won’t go.

VI
Thinking of that wild thirst of love,
head over heels, nothing left undone,
I let blinds down again. Who knows
our abandon through thick and thin?

VII
Up this high, a bedroom needs no walls.
It welcomes winds from every direction,
tender breezes slipping my gauze robe
wide open, teasing my lips into a smile.

VIII
Joy fades by early spring. And my sorrow
grows colder still with autumn and winter.
But playing at love these warm and moonlit
summer nights, we tangle so well together.

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About the Text

Lady Midnight, from "Songs of the Four Seasons." There are 117 poems in the Lady Midnight cycle attributed by literary legend to a fifth-century courtesan.

To the moralist prostitution does not consist so much in the fact that the woman sells her body, but rather that she sells it out of wedlock.
—Emma Goldman, 1917
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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