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About this poet

A leading figure in contemporary Chinese poetry, Yi Lei was born Sun Gui-zhen in Tianjin, China, in 1951. She studied creative writing at the Lu Xun Academy and received a BA in Chinese literature from Peking University. Yi Lei published eight poetry collections, and her work has been translated into Japanese, French, Italian, Russian, and English, notably by U. S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. She also worked as a reporter for the Liberation Army and a staff member of the newspaper The Railway Corps. In 1991, she moved to Moscow, where she lived and wrote for a number of years. Li Yei was a recipient of the Zhuang Zhong Wen Literature Prize. She died on July 14, 2018, while travelling in Iceland.




Nature Aria

translated by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi

Autumn wind chases in
From all directions
And a thousand chaste leaves
Give way.

Scatter in me the seeds
Of a thousand saplings.
Let grow a grassy heaven.
On my brow: a sun.
This bliss is yours, Living
World, and alone it endures.
Music at midnight.
Young wine.
Lovers hand in hand
By daylight, moonlight.
Living World, hold me
In your mouth,

Slip on your frivolous shoes
And dance with me. My soul
Is the wild vine
Who alone has grasped it,
Who has seen through the awful plot,
Who will arrive in time to vanquish
The river already heavy with blossoms,
The moon spilling light onto packs
Of men. What is sadder than witless
Wolves, wind without borders,
Nationless birds, small gifts
Laden with love’s intentions?

Fistfuls of rain fall hard, fill
My heart with mud.  An old wind
May still come chasing in.
Resurrection fire. And me here
Laughing like a cloud in trousers,
Entreating the earth to bury me.

Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Used with the permission of the author.

Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Used with the permission of the author.

Yi Lei

Yi Lei

Yi Lei was one of the most influential figures of Chinese poetry in the 1980s. 

by this poet


translated by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi

My eye laps at you in lamplight
Like a white hot tongue. Longing

Draws back, then rises, tidal.

The curtain of my hair
Announces my breasts. Your lips:

A languid breeze. Like a miracle


translated by Tracy K. Smith & Changtai Bi


1. Mirror Trick

Of course you know her.
She is one and many,
A multitude flashing on, then off,
Watching out from the tidy blank
of her face. She is silent, speaking