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Writing a Poem on a Crimson Leaf
16th century

Tang Yin , (Chinese, 1470 - 1523)
Ming dynasty

Ink and color on silk
H: 126.7 W: 98.2 cm

Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1917.335

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Like many ancient legends, Writing a Poem on a Crimson Leaf has several versions, each with minor differences in detail. The main story takes place in the ninth century during the Tang dynasty (618–907) and concerns a court lady who writes a love poem on a red leaf. She then sets it afloat on the waterway that flows out of the palace. The man who finds the red leaf writes a poem in which he echoes his own longing for love, and he sends the leaf and the poems floating back to the palace. Of course, the same court lady chances upon the leaf and cherishes its poems. Later freed from her obligations to the imperial court, the lady is allowed to marry. On her wedding night, she happily discovers that her groom is the very man who wrote a love poem on her treasured red leaf. “Writing a poem on a crimson leaf” became a metaphor in Chinese literature to describe a happy marriage destined by fate.

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