In her poem "Peonies" (1991 - 92), Mary Oliver writes that " . . . the peonies are getting ready to break my heart . . . "It happens every year -- and apparently has been happening for centuries, as revealed in this poem from China's greatest woman poet, Li Ching Chao, (1084 - 1151):
You open the low curtains of the women's quarter in the palace.
And carefully the carved railings guard you.
You stand alone in the middle of the balcony in the end of Spring.
Your flowerlike face is clear and bright as flowing water.
Gentle, modest, your natural innocence is apparent to all.
All the flowers have withered except you.
In the morning breeze, in the glittering dew,
You make your morning toilet
And become still more splendid and bewitching.
The wind envies you as you laugh at the moon.
The God of Spring falls in love with you forever.
Over the east side of the city the sun rises
And shines on the ponds and the gardens
And teahouses of the courtesans in the south side.
The perfumed carriages run home.
The banquet tables are cleared of scattered flowers and silks.
Who will succeed you when you have become perfumed dust?
The Palace of Brilliant Light was not more beautiful,
As the sun rises through the branches of your blossoms.
I pledge my love to you in a gold cup.
As the painted candles gutter and die,
I for one do not welcome the yellow twilight.
by Li Ching Chao
translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung