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Women played major roles in the history of Buddhist China, but given the paucity of the remaining records, their voices have all but faded. In Daughters of Emptiness, Beata Grant renders a great service by recovering and translating the enchanting verse - by turns assertive, observant, devout - of forty-eight nuns from sixteen centuries of imperial China. This selection of poems, along with the brief biographical accounts that accompany them, affords readers a glimpse into the extraordinary diversity and sometimes startling richness of these women's lives.
A sample poem for this stunning collection:
The sequence of seasons naturally pushes forward,
Suddenly I am startled by the ending of the year.
Lifting my eyes I catch sight of the winter crows,
Calling mournfully as if wanting to complain.
The sunlight is cold rather than gentle,
Spreading over the four corners like a cloud.
A cold wind blows fitfully in from the north,
Its sad whistling filling courtyards and houses.
Head raised, I gaze in the direction of Spring,
But Spring pays no attention to me at all.
Time a galloping colt glimpsed through a crack,
The tap [of Death] at the door has its predestined time.
How should I not know, one who has left the world,
And for whom floating clouds are already familiar?
In the garden there grows a rosary-plum tree:
Whose sworn friendship makes it possible to endure.
- Chan Master Jingnuo
About the Author
Beata Grant is professor of Chinese and Religious Studies (Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures) at Washington University. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
"Beata Grant's deft and elegant translations, together with her informative introduction and the brief biographies she provides for each of her judiciously selected poets, disclose fascinating but hitherto concealed or ignored dimensions of Chinese women's spirituality and literary creativity."
— Professor Robert M. Gimello, Harvard University
"A landmark collection of exquisite poems scrupulously gathered and translated by Beata Grant. Grant provides an impressively compact and readable overview of the changing fortunes of Buddhist nuns in China, from the fourth century to the present."
— Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly