A History of Chinese Literature - Herbert Allen Giles 1973
The T'ang Dynasty (A.D. 600-900)
THE T'ang dynasty is usually associated in Chinese minds with much romance of love and war, with wealth, culture, and refinement, with frivolity, extravagance, and dissipation, but most of all with poetry. China's best efforts in this direction were chiefly produced within the limits of its three hundred years' duration, and they have been carefully preserved as finished models for future poets of all generations.
"Poetry," says a modern Chinese critic, "came into being with the Odes, developed with the Li Sao, burst forth and reached perfection under the T'angs. Some good work was indeed done under the Han and Wei dynasties; the writers of those days seemed to have material in abundance, but language inadequate to its expression."
The "Complete Collection of the Poetry of the T'ang Dynasty," published in 1707, contains 48,900 poems of all kinds, arranged in 900 books, and filling thirty good-sized volumes. Some Chinese writers divide the dynasty into three poetical periods, called Early, Glorious, and Late; and they profess to detect in the works assigned to each the corresponding characteristics of growth, fulness, and decay. Others insert a Middle period between the last two, making four periods in all. For general purposes, however, it is only necessary to state, that since the age of the Hans the meanings of words had gradually come to be more definitely fixed, and the structural arrangement more uniform and more polished. Imagination began to come more freely into play, and the language to flow more easily and more musically, as though responsive to the demands of art. A Chinese poem is at best a hard nut to crack, expressed as it usually is in lines of five or seven monosyllabic root-ideas, without inflection, agglutination, or grammatical indication of any kind, the connection between which has to be inferred by the reader from the logic, from the context, and least perhaps of all from the syntactical arrangement of the words. Then, again, the poet is hampered not only by rhyme but also by tone. For purposes of poetry the characters in the Chinese language are all ranged under two tones, as flats and sharps, and these occupy fixed positions just as dactyls, spondees, trochees, and anapæsts in the construction of Latin verse. As a consequence, the natural order of words is often entirely sacrificed to the exigencies of tone, thus making it more difficult than ever for the reader to grasp the sense. In a stanza of the ordinary five-character length the following tonal arrangement would appear:—
The effect produced by these tones is very marked and pleasing to the ear, and often makes up for the faultiness of the rhymes, which are simply the rhymes of the Odes as heard 2500 years ago, many of them of course being no longer rhymes at all. Thus, there is as much artificiality about a stanza of Chinese verse as there is about an Alcaic stanza in Latin. But in the hands of the most gifted this artificiality is altogether concealed by art, and the very trammels of tone and rhyme become transfigured, and seem to be necessary aids and adjuncts to success. Many works have been published to guide the student in his admittedly difficult task. The first rule in one of these seems so comprehensive as to make further perusal quite unnecessary. It runs thus:— "Discard commonplace form; discard commonplace ideas; discard commonplace phrasing; discard commonplace words; discard commonplace rhymes."
A long poem does not appeal to the Chinese mind. There is no such thing as an epic in the language, though, of course, there are many pieces extending to several hundred lines. Brevity is indeed the soul of a Chinese poem, which is valued not so much for what it says as for what it suggests. As in painting, so in poetry suggestion is the end and aim of the artist, who in each case may be styled an impressionist. The ideal length is twelve lines, and this is the limit set to candidates at the great public examinations at the present day, the Chinese holding that if a poet cannot say within such compass what he has to say it may very well be left unsaid. The eight-line poem is also a favourite, and so, but for its extreme difficulty, is the four-line epigram, or "stop-short," so called because of its abruptness, though, as the critics explain, "it is only the words which stop, the sense goes on," some train of thought having been suggested to the reader. The latter form of verse was in use so far back as the Han dynasty, but only reached perfection under the Tangs. Although consisting of only twenty or twenty-eight words, according to the measure employed, it is just long enough for the poet to introduce, to develop, to embellish, and to conclude his theme in accordance with certain established laws of composition. The third line is considered the most troublesome to produce, some poets even writing it first; the last line should contain a "surprise" or dénouement. We are, in fact, reminded of the old formula, "Omne epigramma sit instar apis," &c., better known in its English dress:—
"The qualities rare in a bee that we meet
In an epigram never should fail;
The body should always be little and sweet,
And a sting should be left in the tail."
The following is an early specimen, by an anonymous writer, of the four-line poem:—
"The bright moon shining overhead,
The stream beneath the breeze's touch,
Are pure and perfect joys indeed,—
But few are they who think them such."
Turning now to the almost endless list of poets from which but a scanty selection can be made, we may begin with WANG PO (A.D. 648-676), a precocious boy who wrote verses when he was six. He took his degree at sixteen, and was employed in the Historical Department, but was dismissed for satirising the cock-fighting propensities of the Imperial princes. He filled up his leisure by composing many beautiful poems. He never meditated on these beforehand, but after having prepared a quantity of ink ready for use, he would drink himself tipsy and lie down with his face covered up. On waking he would seize his pen and write off verses, not a word in which needed to be changed; whence he acquired the sobriquet of Belly-Draft, meaning that his drafts, or rough copies, were all prepared inside. And he received so many presents of valuable silks for writing these odes, that it was said "he spun with his mind." These lines are from his pen:—
"Near these islands a palace
was built by a prince,
But its music and song
have departed long since;
The hill-mists of morning
sweep down on the halls,
At night the red curtains
lie furled on the walls.
The clouds o'er the water
their shadows still cast,
Things change like the stars:
how few autumns have passed
And yet where is that prince?
where is he?—No reply,
Save the plash of the stream
rolling ceaselessly by."
A still more famous contemporary of his was CH'ÊN TZŬ-ANG (A.D. 656-698), who adopted somewhat sensational means of bringing himself to the notice of the public. He purchased a very expensive guitar which had been for a long time on sale, and then let it be known that on the following day he would perform upon it in public. This attracted a large crowd; but when Chen arrived he informed his auditors that he had something in his pocket worth much more than the guitar. Thereupon he dashed the instrument into a thousand pieces, and forthwith began handing round copies of his own writings. Here is a sample, directed against the Buddhist worship of idols, the "Prophet" representing any divinely-inspired teacher of the Confucian school:—
"On Self the Prophet never rests his eye,
His to relieve the doom of humankind;
No fairy palaces beyond the sky,
Rewards to come, are present to his mind.
And I have heard the faith by Buddha taught
Lauded as pure and free from earthly taint;
Why then these carved and graven idols, fraught
With gold and silver, gems, and jade, and paint?
The heavens that roof this earth, mountain and dale,
All that is great and grand, shall pass away;
And if the art of gods may not prevail,
Shall man's poor handiwork escape decay?
Fools that ye are! In this ignoble light
The true faith fades and passes out of sight."
As an official, Ch'ên Tzŭ-ang once gained great kudos by a truly Solomonic decision. A man, having slain the murderer of his father, was himself indicted for murder. Ch'ên Tzŭ-ang caused him to be put to death, but at the same time conferred an honorific distinction upon his village for having produced so filial a son.
Not much is known of SUNG CHIH-WÊN (D. A.D. 710), at any rate to his good. On one occasion the Emperor was so delighted with some of his verses that he took off the Imperial robe and placed it on the poet's shoulders. This is one of his poems:—
"The dust of the morn
had been laid by a shower,
And the trees by the bridge
were all covered with flower,
When a white palfrey passed
with a saddle of gold,
And a damsel as fair
as the fairest of old.
But she veiled so discreetly
her charms from my eyes
That the boy who was with her
quite felt for my sighs;
And although not a light-o'-love
reckoned, I deem,
It was hard that this vision
should pass like a aream."
MÊNG HAO-JAN (A.D. 689-740) gave no sign in his youth of the genius that was latent within him. He failed at the public examinations, and retired to the mountains as a recluse. He then became a poet of the first rank, and his writings were eagerly sought after. At the age of forty he went up to the capital, and was one day conversing with his famous contemporary, Wang Wei, when suddenly the Emperor was announced. He hid under a couch, but Wang Wei betrayed him, the result being a pleasant interview with his Majesty. The following is a specimen of his verse:—
"The sun has set behind the western slope,
The eastern moon lies mirrored in the pool;
With streaming hair my balcony I ope,
And stretch my limbs out to enjoy the cool.
Loaded with lotus-scent the breeze sweeps by,
Clear dripping drops from tall bamboos I hear,
I gaze upon my idle lute and sigh;
Alas, no sympathetic soul is near.
And so I doze, the while before mine eyes
Dear friends of other days in dream-clad forms arise."
Equally famous as poet and physician was WANG WEI (A.D. 699-759). After a short spell of official life, he too retired into seclusion and occupied himself with poetry and with the consolations of Buddhism, in which he was a firm believer. His lines on bidding adieu to Mêng Hao-jan, when the latter was seeking refuge on the mountains, are as follows:—
"Dismounted, o'er wine
we had said our last say;
Then I whisper, 'Dear friend,
tell me, whither away?'
'Alas!' he replied,
'I am sick of life's ills
And I long for repose
on the slumbering hills.
But oh seek not to pierce
where my footsteps may stray:
The white clouds will soothe me for ever and ay.'"
The accompanying "stop-short" by the same writer is generally thought to contain an effective surprise in the last line:—
"Beneath the bamboo grove, alone,
I seize my lute and sit and croon;
No ear to hear me, save mine own:
No eye to see me—save the moon."
Wang Wei has been accused of loose writing and incongruous pictures. A friendly critic defends him as follows:—" For instance, there is Wang Wei, who introduces bananas into a snow-storm. When, however, we come to examine such points by the light of scholarship, we see that his mind had merely passed into subjective relationship with the things described. Fools say he did not know heat from cold."
A skilled poet, and a wine-bibber and gambler to boot, was Ts'ui HAO, who graduated about A.D. 730. He wrote a poem on the Yellow-Crane pagoda which until quite recently stood on the bank of the Yang-tsze near Hankow, and was put up to mark the spot where Wang Tzŭ-ch'iao, who had attained immortality, went up to heaven in broad daylight six centuries before the Christian era. The great Li Po once thought of writing on the theme, but he gave up the idea so soon as he had read these lines by Ts'ui Hao:—
"Here a mortal once sailed
up to heaven on a crane,
And the Yellow-Crane Kiosque,
will for ever remain;
But the bird flew away
and will come back no more,
Though the white clouds are there
as the white clouds of yore.
Away to the east
lie fair forests of trees,
From the flowers on the west
comes a scent-laden breeze,
Yet my eyes daily turn
to their far-away home,
Beyond the broad River,
its waves, and its foam."
By general consent Li Po himself (A.D. 705-762) would probably be named as China's greatest poet. His wild Bohemian life, his gay and dissipated career at Court, his exile, and his tragic end, all combine to form a most effective setting for the splendid flow of verse which he never ceased to pour forth. At the early age of ten he wrote a "stop-short" to a firefly:—
"Rain cannot quench thy lantern's light,
Wind makes it shine more brightly bright;
Oh why not fly to heaven afar,
And twinkle near the moon—a star? "
Li Po began by wandering about the country, until at length, with five other tippling poets, he retired to the mountains. For some time these Six Idlers of the Bamboo Grove drank and wrote verses to their hearts' content. By and by Li Po reached the capital, and on the strength of his poetry was introduced to the Emperor as a "banished angel." He was received with open arms, and soon became the spoilt child of the palace. On one occasion, when the Emperor sent for him, he was found lying drunk in the street; and it was only after having his face well mopped with cold water that he was fit for the Imperial presence. His talents, however, did not fail him. With a lady of the seraglio to hold his ink-slab, he dashed off some of his most impassioned lines; at which the Emperor was so overcome that he made the powerful eunuch Kao Li-shih go down on his knees and pull off the poet's boots. On another occasion, the Emperor, who was enjoying himself with his favourite lady in the palace grounds, called for Li Po to commemorate the scene in verse. After some delay the poet arrived, supported between two eunuchs. "Please your Majesty," he said, "I have been drinking with the Prince and he has made me drunk, but I will do my best." Thereupon two of the ladies of the harem held up in front of him a pink silk screen, and in a very short time he had thrown off no less than ten eight-line stanzas, of which the following, describing the life of a palace favourite, is one:—
"Oh, the joy of youth spent
in a gold-fretted hall,
In the Crape-flower Pavilion,
the fairest of all,
My tresses for head-dress
with gay garlands girt,
o'er my jacket and skirt!
Then to wander away
in the soft-scented air,
And return by the side
of his Majesty's chair …
But the dance and the song
will be o'er by and by,
And we shall dislimn
like the rack in the sky."
As time went on, Li Po fell a victim to intrigue, and left the Court in disgrace. It was then that he wrote—
"My whitening hair would make a long, long rope,
Yet would not fathom all my depth of woe."
After more wanderings and much adventure, he was drowned on a journey, from leaning one night too far over the edge of a boat in a drunken effort to embrace the reflection of the moon, just previously he had indited the following lines:—
"An arbour of flowers
and a kettle of wine:
Alas! in the bowers
no companion is mine.
Then the moon sheds her rays
on my goblet and me,
And my shadow betrays
we're a party of three.
"Though the moon cannot swallow
her share of the grog,
And my shadow must follow
wherever I jog,—
Yet their friendship I'll borrow
and gaily carouse,
And laugh away sorrow
while spring-time allows.
"See the moon,—how she glances
response to my song;
See my shadow,—it dances
so lightly along!
While sober I feel
you are both my good friends;
When drunken I reel,
our companionship ends.
But we'll soon have a greeting
without a good-bye,
At our next merry meeting
away in the sky."
His control of the "stop-short" is considered to be perfect:—
(1.) "The birds have all flown to their roost in the tree,
The last cloud has just floated lazily by;
But we never tire of each other, not we,
As we sit there together,—the mountains
(2.) "I wake, and moonbeams play around my bed,
Glittering like hoar-frost to my wondering eyes;
Up towards the glorious moon I raise my head,
Then lay me down,—and thoughts of
The following are general extracts:—
(1.) "The river rolls crystal as clear as the sky,
To blend far away with the blue waves of ocean;
Man alone, when the hour of departure is nigh,
With the wine-cup can soothe his emotion.
"The birds of the valley sing loud in the sun,
Where the gibbons their vigils will shortly be keeping:
I thought that with tears I had long ago done,
But now I shall never cease weeping."
(2.) "Homeward at dusk the clanging rookery
wings its eager flight;
Then, chattering on the branches, all
are pairing for the night.
Plying her busy loom, a high-born
dame is sitting near,
And through the silken window-screen
their voices strike her ear.
She stops, and thinks of the absent spouse
she may never see again;
And late in the lonely hours of night
her tears flow down like rain"
(3.) "What is life after all but a dream?
And why should such pother be made?
Better far to be tipsy, I deem
And doze all day long in the shade.
"When I wake and look out on the lawn,
I hear midst the flowers a bird sing;
I ask, 'Is it evening or dawn?'
The mango-bird whistles, ''Tis spring.'
"Overpower'd with the beautiful sight,
Another full goblet I pour,
And would sing till the moon rises bright—
But soon Tin as drunk as before."
(4.) "You ask what my soul does away in the sky,
I inwardly smile but I cannot reply;
Like the peach-blossoms carried away by the stream,
I soar to a world of which you cannot dream. "
One more extract may be given, chiefly to exhibit what is held by the Chinese to be of the very essence of real poetry,—suggestion. A poet should not dot his is. The Chinese reader likes to do that for himself, each according to his own fancy. Hence such a poem as the following, often quoted as a model in its own particular line:—
"A tortoise I see
on a lotus-flower resting:
A bird 'mid the reeds
and the rushes is nesting;
A light skiff propelled
by some boatman's fair daughter,
Whose song dies away
o'er the fast-flowing water."
Another poet of the same epoch, of whom his countrymen are also justly proud, is Tu Fu (A.D. 712-770). He failed to distinguish himself at the public examinations, at which verse-making counts so much, but had nevertheless such a high opinion of his own poetry that he prescribed it as a cure for malarial fever. He finally obtained a post at Court, which he was forced to vacate in the rebellion of 755. As he himself wrote in political allegory—
"Full with the freshets of the spring the torrent rushes on; The ferry-boat swings idly, for the ferry-man is gone."
After further vain attempts to make an official career, he took to a wandering life, was nearly drowned by an inundation, and was compelled to live for ten days on roots. Being rescued, he succumbed next day to the effects of eating roast-beef and drinking white wine to excess after so long a fast. These are some of his poems:—
(1.) "The setting sun shines low upon my door
Ere dusk enwraps the river fringed with spring;
Sweet perfumes rise from gardens by the shore,
And smoke, where crews their boats to anchor bring.
"Now twittering birds are roosting in the bower,
And flying insects fill the air around… .
O wine, who gave to thee thy subtle power?
A thousand cares in one small goblet drowned!"
(2.) "A petal falls!—the spring begins to fail,
And my heart saddens with the growing gale.
Come then, ere autumn spoils bestrew the ground,
Do not forget to pass the wine-cup round.
Kingfishers build where man once laughed elate,
And now stone dragons guard his graveyard gate!
Who follows pleasure, he alone is wise;
Why waste our life in deeds of high emprise?"
(3.) "My home is girdled by a limpid stream,
And there in summer days life's movements pause,
Save where some swallow flits from beam to beam,
And the wild sea-gull near and nearer draws.
"The goodwife rules a paper board for chess;
The children beat a fish-hook out of wire;
My ailments call for physic more or less,
What else should this poor frame of mine require?"
(4.) "Alone I wandered o'er the hills
to seek the hermit's den,
While sounds of chopping rang around
the forest's leafy glen.
I passed on ice across the brook,
which had not ceased to freeze,
As the slanting rays of afternoon
shot sparkling through the trees.
"I found he did not joy to gloat
o'er fetid wealth by night,
But, far from taint, to watch the deer
in the golden morning light… .
My mind was clear at coming;
but now I've lost my guide,
And rudderless my little bark
is drifting with the tide!"
(5.) "From the Court every eve to the pawnshop I pass,
To come back from the river the drunkest of men;
As often as not I'm in debt for my glass;—
Well, few of us live to be threescore and ten.
The butterfly flutters from flower to flower,
The dragon-fly sips and springs lightly away,
Each creature is merry its brief little hour,
So let us enjoy our short life while we may."
Here is a specimen of his skill with the "stop-short," based upon a disease common to all Chinese, poets or otherwise,—nostalgia:—
"White gleam the gulls across the darkling tide,
On the green hills the red flowers seem to burn;
Alas! I see another spring has died… . When will it come—the day of my return?"
Of the poet CHANG CH'IEN not much is known. He graduated in 727, and entered upon an official career, but ultimately betook himself to the mountains and lived as a hermit. He is said to have been a devotee of Taoism. The following poem, however, which deals with dhyâna, or the state of mental abstraction in which all desire for existence is shaken off, would make it seem as if his leanings had been Buddhistic. It gives a perfect picture, so far as it goes, of the Buddhist retreat often to be found among mountain peaks all over China, visited by pilgrims who perform religious exercises or fulfil vows at the feet of the World-Honoured, and by contemplative students eager to shake off the "red dust" of mundane affairs:—
"The clear dawn creeps into the convent old,
The rising sun tips its tall trees with gold,
As, darkly, by a winding path I reach
Dhyâna's hall, hidden midst fir and beech.
Around these hills sweet birds their pleasure take,
Man's heart as free from shadows as this lake;
Here worldly sounds are hushed, as by a spell,
Save for the booming of the altar bell."
There can be little doubt of the influence of Buddhism upon the poet TS'ÊN TS'AN, who graduated about 750, as witness his lines on that faith:—
"A shrine whose eaves in far-off cloudland hide:
I mount, and with the sun stand side by side.
The air is clear; I see wide forests spread
And mist-crowned heights where kings of old lie dead.
Scarce o'er my threshold peeps the Southern Hill;
The Wei shrinks through my window to a rill… .
O thou Pure Faith, had I but known thy scope,
The Golden God1 had long since been my hope!"
WANG CHIEN took the highest degree in 775, and rose to be Governor of a District. He managed, however, to offend one of the Imperial clansmen, in consequence of which his official career was abruptly cut short. He wrote a good deal of verse, and was on terms of intimacy with several of the great contemporary poets. In the following lines, the metre of which is irregular, he alludes to the extraordinary case of a soldier's wife who spent all her time on a hill-top looking down the Yangtsze, watching for her husband's return from the wars. At length—
"Where her husband she sought,
By the river's long track,
Into stone she was wrought,
And can never come back;
Mid the wind and the rain-storm for ever and ay,
She appeals to each home-comer passing that way."
The last line makes the stone figure, into which the unhappy woman was changed, appear to be asking of every fresh arrival news of the missing man. That is the skill of the artist, and is inseparably woven into the original.
Passing over many poets equally well known with some of those already cited, we reach a name undoubtedly the most venerated of all those ever associated in any way with the great mass of Chinese literature. HAN Yü (A.D. 768-824), canonised and usually spoken of as Han Wên-kung, was not merely a poet, but a statesman of the first rank, and philosopher to boot. He rose from among the humblest of the people to the highest offices of State. In 803 he presented a memorial protesting against certain extravagant honours with which the Emperor Hsien Tsung proposed to receive a bone of Buddha. The monarch was furious, and but for the intercession of friends it would have fared badly with the bold writer. As it was, he was banished to Ch'ao-chou Fu in Kuangtung, where he set himself to civilise the rude inhabitants of those wild parts. In a temple at the summit of the neighbouring range there is to be seen at this day a huge picture of the Prince of Literature, as he has been called by foreigners from his canonisation, with the following legend attached:—"Wherever he passed, he purified." He is even said to have driven away a huge crocodile which was devastating the watercourses in the neighbourhood; and the denunciatory ultimatum which he addressed to the monster and threw into the river, together with a pig and a goat, is still regarded as a model of Chinese composition. It was not very long ere he was recalled to the capital and reinstated in office; but he had been delicate all his life and had grown prematurely old, and was thus unable to resist a severe illness which came upon him. His friend and contemporary, Liu Tsung-yüan, said that he never ventured to open the works of Han Yü without first washing his hands in rose-water. His writings, especially his essays, are often of the very highest order, leaving nothing to be desired either in originality or in style. But it is more than all for his pure and noble character, his calm and dignified patriotism, that the Chinese still keep his memory green. The following lines were written by Su Tung-p'o, nearly 300 years after his death, for a shrine which had just been put up in honour of the dead teacher by the people of Ch'ao-chou Fu:—
"He rode on the dragon to the white cloud domain;
He grasped with his hand the glory of the sky;
Robed with the effulgence of the stars,
The wind bore him delicately to the throne of God.
He swept away the chaff and husks of his generation.
He roamed over the limits of the earth.
He clothed all nature with his bright rays,
The third in the triumvirate of genius.1
His rivals panted after him in vain,
Dazed by the brilliancy of the light.
He cursed Buddha; he offended his prince;
He journeyed far away to the distant south;
He passed the grave of Shun, and wept over the daughters of Yao.
The water-god went before him and stilled the waves.
He drove out the fierce monster as it were a lamb,
But above, in heaven, there was no music, and God was sad,
And summoned him to his place beside the Throne.
And now, with these poor offerings, I salute him;
With red lichees and yellow plantain fruit.
Alas! that he did not linger awhile on earth,
But passed so soon, with streaming hair, into the great unknown."
Han Yü wrote a large quantity of verse, frequently playful, on an immense variety of subjects, and under his touch the commonplace was often transmuted into wit. Among other pieces there is one on his teeth, which seemed to drop out at regular intervals, so that he could calculate roughly what span of life remained to him. Altogether, his poetry cannot be classed with that of the highest order, unlike his prose writings, extracts from which will be given in the next chapter. The following poem is a specimen of his lighter vein:—
"To stand upon the river-bank
and snare the purple fish,
My net well cast across the stream,
was all that I could wish.
Or lie concealed and shoot the geese
that scream and pass apace,
And pay my rent and taxes with
the profits of the chase.
Then home to peace and happiness,
with wife and children gay,
Though clothes be coarse and fare be hard,
and earned from day to day.
But now I read and read, scarce knowing
what'tis all about,
And, eager to improve my mind,
I wear my body out.
I draw a snake and give it legs,
to find I've wasted skill,
And my hair grows daily whiter
as I hurry towards the hill.1
I sit amid the sorrows
I have brought on my own head,
And find myself estranged from all,
among the living dead.
I seek to drown my consciousness
in wine, alas! in vain:
Oblivion passes quickly
and my griefs begin again
Old age comes on, and yet withholds
the summons to depart… .
So I'll take another bumper
just to ease my aching heart"
Humane treatment of the lower animals is not generally supposed to be a characteristic of the Chinese. They have no Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which may perhaps account for some of their shortcomings in this direction. Han Yü was above all things of a kindly, humane nature, and although the following piece cannot be taken seriously, it affords a useful index to his general feelings:—
"Oh, spare the busy morning fly,
Spare the mosquitos of the night!
And if their wicked trade they ply,
Let a partition stop their flight.
"Their span is brief from birth to death;
Like you, they bite their little day;
And then, with autumn's earliest breath,
Like you, too, they are swept away."
The following lines were written on the way to his place of exile in Kuangtung:—
"Alas! the early season flies,
Behold the remnants of the spring!
My boat in landlocked water lies,
At dawn I hear the wild birds sing.
"Then, through clouds lingering on the slope,
The rising sun breaks on to me,
And thrills me with a fleeting hope,—
A prisoner longing to be free.
"My flowing tears are long since dried,
Though care clings closer than it did.
But stop! All care we lay aside
When once they close the coffin lid"
Another famous poet, worthy to be mentioned even after Han Yü, was Po CHÜ-I (A.D. 772-846). As a child he was most precocious, knowing a considerable number of the written characters at the early age of seven months, after having had each one pointed out only once by his nurse. He graduated at the age of seventeen, and rose to high office in the State, though at one period of his life he was banished to a petty post, which somewhat disgusted him with officialdom. To console himself, he built a retreat at Hsiang-shan, by which name he is sometimes called; and there, together with eight congenial companions, he gave himself up to poetry and speculations upon a future life. To escape recognition and annoyance, all names were dropped, and the party was generally known as the Nine Old Gentlemen of Hsiang-shan. This reaching the ears of the Emperor, he was transferred to be Governor of Chung-chou; and on the accession of Mu Tsung in 821 he was sent as Governor to Hangchow. There he built one of the great embankments of the beautiful Western Lake, still known as Po's Embankment. He was subsequently Governor of Soochow, and finally rose in 841 to be President of the Board of War. His poems were collected by Imperial command and engraved upon tablets of stone, which were set up in a garden he had made for himself in imitation of his former beloved retreat at Hsiang-shan. He disbelieved in the genuineness of the Tao-Tê-Ching, and ridiculed its preposterous claims as follows:—
"'Who know, speak not; who speak, know naught,'
Are words from Lao Tzŭs lore.
What then becomes of Lao Yzŭ's own
'Five thousand words and more'?"
Here is a charming poem from his pen, which tells the story of a poor lute-girl's sorrows. This piece is ranked very high by the commentator Lin Hsi-chung, who points out how admirably the wording is adapted to echo the sense, and declares that such workmanship raises the reader to that state of mental ecstasy known to the Buddhists as samâdhi, and can only be produced once in a thousand autumns. The "guest" is the poet himself, setting out a second time for his place of banishment, as mentioned above, from a point about half-way thither, where he had been struck down by illness:—
"By night, at the riverside, adieus were spoken: beneath the maple's flower-like leaves, blooming amid autumnal decay. Host had dismounted to speed the parting guest, already on board his boat. Then a stirrup-cup went round, but no flute, no guitar, was heard. And so, ere the heart was warmed with wine, came words of cold farewell beneath the bright moon, glittering over the bosom of the broad stream … when suddenly across the water a lute broke forth into sound. Host forgot to go, guest lingered on, wondering whence the music, and asking who the performer might be. At this, all was hushed, but no answer given. A boat approached, and the musician was invited to join the party. Cups were refilled, lamps trimmed again, and preparations for festivity renewed. At length, after much pressing, she came forth, hiding her face behind her lute; and twice or thrice sweeping the strings, betrayed emotion ere her song was sung. Then every note she struck swelled with pathos deep and strong, as though telling the tale of a wrecked and hopeless life, while with bent head and rapid finger she poured forth her soul in melody. Now softly, now slowly, her plectrum sped to and fro; now this air, now that; loudly, with the crash of falling rain; softly, as the murmur of whispered words; now loud and soft together, like the patter of pearls and pearlets dropping upon a marble dish. Or liquid, like the warbling of the mango-bird in the bush; trickling, like the streamlet on its downward course. And then, like the torrent, stilled by the grip of frost, so for a moment was the music lulled, in a passion too deep for sound. Then, as bursts the water from the broken vase, as clash the arms upon the mailed horseman, so fell the plectrum once more upon the strings with a slash like the rent of silk.
"Silence on all sides: not a sound stirred the air. The autumn moon shone silver athwart the tide, as with a sigh the musician thrust her plectrum beneath the strings and quietly prepared to take leave. 'My childhood,' said she, 'was spent at the capital, in my home near the hills. At thirteen, I learnt the guitar, and my name was enrolled among the primas of the day. The maestro himself acknowledged my skill: the most beauteous of women envied my lovely face. The youths of the neighbourhood vied with each other to do me honour: a single song brought me I know not how many costly bales. Golden ornaments and silver pins were smashed, blood-red skirts of silk were stained with wine, in oft-times echoing applause. And so I laughed on from year to year, while the spring breeze and autumn moon swept over my careless head.
"'Then my brother went away to the wars: my mother died. Nights passed and mornings came; and with them my beauty began to fade. My doors were no longer thronged; but few cavaliers remained. So I took a husband and became a trader's wife. He was all for gain, and little recked of separation from me. Last month he went off to buy tea, and I remained behind, to wander in my lonely boat on moon-lit nights over the cold wave, thinking of the happy days gone by, my reddened eyes telling of tearful dreams.'
"The sweet melody of the lute had already moved my soul to pity, and now these words pierced me to the heart again. 'O lady,' I cried, 'we are companions in misfortune, and need no ceremony to be friends. Last year I quitted the Imperial city, and fever - stricken reached this spot, where in its desolation, from year's end to year's end, no flute or guitar is heard. I live by the marshy river-bank, surrounded by yellow reeds and stunted bamboos. Day and night no sounds reach my ears save the blood-stained note of the nightjar, the gibbon's mournful wail. Hill songs I have, and village pipes with their harsh discordant twang. But now that I listen to thy lute's discourse, methinks'tis the music of the gods. Prithee sit down awhile and sing to us yet again, while I commit thy story to writing.'
"Grateful to me (for she had been standing long), the lute-girl sat down and quickly broke forth into another song, sad and soft, unlike the song of just now. Then all her hearers melted into tears unrestrained; and none flowed more freely than mine, until my bosom was wet with weeping."
Perhaps the best known of all the works of Po Chü-i is a narrative poem of some length entitled "The Everlasting Wrong." It refers to the ignominious downfall of the Emperor known as Ming Huang (A.D. 685-762), who himself deserves a passing notice. At his accession to the throne in 712, he was called upon to face an attempt on the part of his aunt, the T'ai-p'ing Princess, to displace him; but this he succeeded in crushing, and entered upon what promised to be a glorious reign. He began with economy, closing the silk factories and forbidding the palace ladies to wear jewels or embroideries, considerable quantities of which were actually burnt. Until 740 the country was fairly prosperous. The administration was improved, the empire was divided into fifteen provinces, and schools were established in every village. The Emperor was a patron of literature, and himself a poet of no mean capacity. He published an edition of the Classic of Filial Piety, and caused the text to be engraved on four tablets of stone, A.D. 745. His love of war, however, and his growing extravagance, led to increased taxation. Fond of music, he founded a college for training youth of both sexes in this art. He surrounded himself by a brilliant Court, welcoming such men as the poet Li Po, at first for their talents alone, but afterwards for their readiness to participate in scenes of revelry and dissipation provided for the amusement of the Imperial concubine, the ever-famous Yang Kuei-fei. Eunuchs were appointed to official posts, and the grossest forms of religious superstition were encouraged. Women ceased to veil themselves as of old. Gradually the Emperor left off concerning himself with affairs of State; a serious rebellion broke out, and his Majesty sought safety in flight to Ssŭch'uan, returning only after having abdicated in favour of his son. The accompanying poem describes the rise of Yang Kuei-fei, her tragic fate at the hands of the soldiery, and her subsequent communication with her heart-broken lover from the world of shadows beyond the grave:—
ENNUI.— His Imperial Majesty, a slave to beauty,
longed for a "subverter of empires;"1
For years he had sought in vain
to secure such a treasure for his palace… .
BEAUTY.—From the Yang family came a maiden,
just grown up to womanhood,
Reared in the inner apartments,
altogether unknown to fame.
But nature had amply endowed her
with a beauty hard to conceal,
And one day she was summoned
to a place at the monarch's side.
Her sparkling eye and merry laughter
fascinated every beholder,
And among the powder and paint of the harem
her loveliness reigned supreme.
In the chills of spring, by Imperial mandate,
she bathed in the Hua-ch'ing Pool,
Laving her body in the glassy wavelets
of the fountain perennially warm.
Then, when she came forth, helped by attendants,
her delicate and graceful movements
Finally gained for her gracious favour,
captivating his Majesty's heart.
REVELRY.—Hair like a cloud, face like a flower,
headdress which quivered as she walked,
Amid the delights of the Hibiscus Pavilion
she passed the soft spring nights.
Spring nights, too short alas! for them,
albeit prolonged till dawn,—
From this time forth no more audiences
in the hours of early morn.
Revels and feasts in quick succession,
ever without a break,
She chosen always for the spring excursion,
chosen for the nightly carouse.
Three thousand peerless beauties adorned
the apartments of the monarch's harem,
Yet always his Majesty reserved
his attentions for her alone.
Passing her life in a "golden house"1
with fair girls to wait on her,
She was daily wafted to ecstasy
on the wine fumes of the banquet-hall.
Her sisters and her brothers, one and all,
were raised to the rank of nobles.
Alas! for the ill-omened glories
which she conferred on her family.
For thus it came about that fathers and mothers
through the length and breadth of the empire
Rejoiced no longer over the birth of sons,
but over the birth of daughters.
In the gorgeous palace
piercing the grey clouds above,
Divine music, borne on the breeze,
is spread around on all sides;
Of song and the dance
to the guitar and flute,
All through the live long day,
his Majesty never tires.
But suddenly comes the roll
of the fish-skin war-drums,
Breaking rudely upon the air
of the "Rainbow Skirt and Feather Jacket
FLIGHT.—Clouds of dust envelop
the lofty gates of the capital.
A thousand war-chariots and ten thousand horses
move towards the south-west.
Feathers and jewels among the throng,
onwards and then a halt.
A hundred li beyond the western gate,
leaving behind them the city walls,
The soldiers refuse to advance;
nothing remains to be done
Until she of the moth-eyebrows
perishes in sight of all.
On the ground lie gold ornaments
with no one to pick them up,
Kingfisher wings, golden birds,
and hairpins of costly jade.
The monarch covers his face,
powerless to save;
And as he turns to look back,
tears and blood flow mingled together.
EXILE.—A cross vast stretches of yellow sand
with whistling winds,
A cross cloud-capped mountain-tops
they make their way.
Few indeed are the travellers
who reach the heights of Mount Omi;
The bright gleam of the standards
grows fainter day by day.
Dark the Ssŭch uan waters,
dark the Ssüch'uan hills;
Daily and nightly his Majesty
is consumed by bitter grief.
Travelling along, the very brightness
of the moon saddens his heart,
And the sound of a bell through the evening rain
severs his viscera in twain.
RETURN.—Time passes, days go by, and once again
he is there at the well-known spot,
And there he lingers on, unable
to tear himself wholly away.
But from the clods of earth
at the foot of the Ma-wei hill,
No sign of her lovely face appears,
only the place of death.
The eyes of sovereign and minister meet,
and robes are wet with tears,
Eastward they depart and hurry on
to the capital at full speed.
HOME.—There is the pool and there are the flowers,
as of old.
There is the hibiscus of the pavilion,
there are the willows of the palace.
In the hibiscus he sees her face,
in the willow he sees her eyebrows:
How in the presence of these
should tears not flow,—
In spring amid the flowers
of the peach and plum,
In autumn rains when the leaves
of the wut'ung fall?
To the south of the western palace
are many trees,
And when their leaves cover the steps,
no one now sweeps them away.
The hair of the Pear-Garden musicians
is white as though with age;
The guardians of the Pepper Chambers1
seem to him no longer young.
Where fireflies flit through the hall,
he sits in silent grief;
Alone, the lamp-wick burnt out,
he is still unable to sleep.
Slowly pass the watches,
for the nights are now too long,
And brightly shine the constellations,
as though dawn would never come.
Cold settles upon the duck-and-drake tiles,2
and thick hoar-frost,
The kingfisher coverlet is chill,
with none to share its warmth.
Parted by life and death,
time still goes on,
But never once does her spirit come back
to visit him in dreams.
SPIRIT-LAND.— A Taoist priest of Lin-ch'ung,
of the Hung-tu school,
Was able, by his perfect art, to summon
the spirits of the dead.
Anxious to relieve the fretting mind
of his sovereign,
This magician receives orders
to urge a diligent quest.
Borne on the clouds, charioted upon ether,
he rushes -with the speed of lightning
High up to heaven, low down to earth,
Above, he searches the empyrean;
below, the Yellow Springs,
But nowhere in these vast areas
can her place be found.
At length he hears of an Isle of the Blest
away in mid-ocean,
Lying in realms of vacuity,
dimly to be descried.
There gaily decorated buildings
rise up like rainbow clouds,
And there many gentle and beautiful Immortals
pass their days in peace.
Among them is one whose name
sounds upon lips as Eternal,
And by her snow-white skin and flower-like face
he knows that this is she.
Knocking at the jade door
at the western gate of the golden palace,
He bids a fair waiting-maid announce him
to her mistress, fairer still.
She, hearing of this embassy
sent by the Son of Heaven,
Starts up from her dreams
among the tapestry curtains.
Grasping her clothes and pushing away the pillow,
she arises in haste,
And begins to adorn herself
with pearls and jewels.
Her cloud-like coiffure, dishevelled,
shows that she has just risen from sleep,
And with her flowery head-dress awry,
she passes into the hall.
The sleeves of her immortal robes
are filled out by the breeze,
As once more she seems to dance
to the "Rainbow Skirt and Feather Jacket."
Her features are fixed and calm,
though myriad tears fall,
Wetting a spray of pear-bloom,
as it were with the raindrops of spring.
Subduing her emotions, restraining her grief,
she tenders thanks to his Majesty,
Saying how since they parted
she has missed his form and voice;
And how, although their love on earth
has so soon come to an end,
The days and months among the Blest
are still of long duration.
And now she turns and gazes
towards the abode of mortals,
But cannot discern the Imperial city
lost in the dust and haze.
Then she takes out the old keepsakes,
tokens of undying love,
A gold hairpin, an enamel brooch,
and bids the magician carry these back.
One half of the hairpin she keeps,
and one half of the enamel brooch,
Breaking with her hands the yellow gold,
and dividing the enamel in two.
"Tell him," she said, "to be firm of heart,
as this gold and enamel,
And then in heaven or on earth below
we two may meet once more."
At parting, she confided to the magician
many earnest messages of love,
Among the rest recalling a pledge
How on the seventh day of the seventh moon,
in the Hall of Immortality,
At midnight, when none were near,
he had whispered in her ear,
"I swear that we will ever fly
like the one-winged birds,1
Or grow united like the tree
with branches which twine together."2
Heaven and Earth, long-lasting as they are,
will some day pass away;
But this great wrong shall stretch out for ever,
endless, for ever and ay.
A precocious and short-lived poet was Li Ho, of the ninth century. He began to write verses at the age of seven. Twenty years later he met a strange man riding on a hornless dragon, who said to him, "God Almighty has finished his Jade Pavilion, and has sent for you to be his secretary." Shortly after this he died. The following is a specimen of his poetry:—
"With flowers on the ground like embroidery spread,
At twenty, the soft glow of wine in my head,
My white courser's bit-tassels motionless gleam
While the gold-threaded willow scent sweeps o'er the stream.
Yet until she has smiled, all these flowers yield no ray;
When her tresses fall down the whole landscape is gay;
My hand on her sleeve as I gaze in her eyes,
A kingfisher hairpin will soon be my prize."
CHANG CHI, who also flourished in the ninth century, was eighty years old when he died. He was on terms of close friendship with Han Yü, and like him, too, a vigorous opponent of both Buddhism and Taoism. The following is his most famous poem, the beauty of which, says a commentator, lies beyond the words:—
"Knowing, fair sir, my matrimonial thrall,
Two pearls thou sentest me, costly withal.
And I, seeing that Love thy heart possessed,
I wrapped them coldly in my silken vest.
"For mine is a household of high degree,
My husband captain in the King's army;
And one with wit like thine should say,
'The troth of wives is for ever and ay.'
"With thy two pearls I send thee back two tears:
Tears—that we did not meet in earlier years."
Many more poets of varying shades of excellence must here be set aside, their efforts often brightened by those quaint conceits which are so dear to the Chinese reader, but which approach so perilously near to bathos when they appear in foreign garb. A few specimens, torn from their setting, may perhaps have an interest of their own. Here is a lady complaining of the leaden-footed flight of time as marked by the water-clock:—
"It seems that the clepsydra
has been filled up with the sea,
To make the long, long night appear
an endless night to me!"
The second line in the next example is peculiarly characteristic:—
"Dusk comes, the east wind blows, and birds
pipe forth a mournful sound;
Petals, like nymphs from balconies,
come tumbling to the ground."
The next refers to candles burning in a room where two friends are having a last talk on the night before parting for a long period:—
"The very wax sheds sympathetic tears,
And gutters sadly down till dawn appears."
This last is from a friend to a friend at a distance:—
"Ah, when shall we ever snuff candles again,
And recall the glad hours of that evening of rain?"
A popular poet of the ninth century was LI SHÊ, especially well known for the story of his capture by highwaymen. The chief knew him by name and called for a sample of his art, eliciting the following lines, which immediately secured his release:—
"The rainy mist sweeps gently
o'er the village by the stream,
When from the leafy forest glades
the brigand daggers gleam… .
And yet there is no need to fear,
nor step from out their way,
For more than half the world consists
of bigger rogues than they!"
A popular physician in great request, as well as a poet, was MA TZŬ-JAN (D. A.D. 880). He studied Taoism in a hostile sense, as would appear from the following poem by him; nevertheless, according to tradition, he was ultimately taken up to heaven alive:—
"In youth I went to study TAO
at its living fountain-head,
And then lay tipsy half the day
upon a gilded bed.
'What oaf is this,' the Master cried,
'content with human lot?'
And bade me to the world get back
and call myself a sot.
But wherefore seek immortal life
by means of wondrous pills?
Noise is not in the market-place,
nor quiet on the hills.
The secret of perpetual youth
is already known to me:
Accept with philosophic calm
whatever fate may be."
HSÜ AN-CHÊN, of the ninth century, is entitled to a place among the T'ang poets, if only for the following piece:—
"When the Bear athwart was lying,
And the night was just on dying,
And the moon was all but gone,
How my thoughts did ramble on!
"Then a sound of music breaks
From a lute that some one wakes,
And I know that it is she,
The sweet maid next door to me.
"And as the strains steal o'er me
Her moth-eyebrows rise before me,
And I feel a gentle thrill
That her fingers must be chill.
"But doors and locks between us
So effectually screen us
That I hasten from the street
And in dreamland pray to meet"
The following lines by Tu CH'IN-NIANG, a poetess of the ninth century, are included in a collection of 300 gems of the T'ang dynasty:—
"I would not have thee grudge those robes
which gleam in rich array,
But I would have thee grudge the hours
of youth which glide away.
Go, pluck the blooming flower betimes,
lest when thou com'st again
Alas! upon the withered stem
no blooming flowers remain!"
It is time perhaps to bring to a close the long list, which might be almost indefinitely lengthened. Ssŭ-K'UNG Tu (A.D. 834-908) was a secretary in the Board of Rites, but he threw up his post and became a hermit. Returning to Court in 905, he accidentally dropped part of his official insignia at an audience,—an unpardonable breach of Court etiquette,—and was allowed to retire once more to the hills, where he ultimately starved himself to death through grief at the murder of the youthful Emperor. He is commonly known as the Last of the Tangs; his poetry, which is excessively difficult to understand, ranking correspondingly high in the estimation of Chinese critics. The following philosophical poem, consisting of twenty-four apparently unconnected stanzas, is admirably adapted to exhibit the form under which pure Taoism commends itself to the mind of a cultivated scholar:—
"Expenditure of force leads to outward decay,
Spiritual existence means inward fulness.
Let us revert to Nothing and enter the Absolute,
Hoarding up strength for Energy.
Freighted with eternal principles,
Athwart the mighty void,
Where cloud-masses darken,
And the wind blows ceaseless around,
Beyond the range of conceptions,
Let us gain the Centre,
And there hold fast without violence,
Fed from an inexhaustible supply."
"It dwells in quietude, speechless,
Imperceptible in the cosmos,
Watered by the eternal harmonies,
Soaring with the lonely crane.
It is like a gentle breeze in spring,
Softly bellying the flowing robe;
It is like the note of the bamboo flute,
Whose sweetness we would fain make our own.
Meeting by chance, it seems easy of access,
Seeking, we find it ha,rd to secure.
Ever shifting in semblance,
It shifts from the grasp and is gone."
"Gathering the water-plants
From the wild luxuriance of spring,
Away in the depth of a wild valley
Anon I see a lovely girl.
With green leaves the peach-trees are loaded,
The breeze blows gently along the stream,
Willows shade the winding path,
Darting orioles collect in groups.
Eagerly I press forward
As the reality grows upon me… .
'Tis the eternal theme
Which, though old, is ever new."
"Green pines and a rustic hut,
The sun sinking through pure air,
I take off my cap and stroll alone,
Listening to the song of birds.
No wild geese fly hither,
And she is far away;
But my thoughts make her present
As in the days gone by.
Across the water dark clouds are whirled,
Beneath the moonbeams the eyots stand revealed,
And sweet words are exchanged
Though the great River rolls between"
"Lo the Immortal, borne by spirituality,
His hand grasping a lotus flower,
Away to Time everlasting,
Trackless through the regions of Space!
With the moon he issues from the Ladle,1
Speeding upon a favourable gale;
Below, Mount Hua looms dark,
And from it sounds a clear-toned bell.
Vacantly I gaze after his vanished image,
Now passed beyond the bounds of mortality… .
Ah, the Yellow Emperor and Yao,
They, peerless, are his models."
"A jade kettle with a purchase of spring,2
A shower on the thatched hut
Wherein sits a gentle scholar,
With tall bamboos growing right and left,
And white clouds in the newly-clear sky,
And birds flitting in the depths of trees.
Then pillowed on his lute in the green shade,
A waterfall tumbling overhead,
Leaves dropping, not a word spoken,
The man placid, like a chrysanthemum,
Noting down the flower-glory of the season,—
A book well worthy to be read."
"As iron from the mines,
As silver from lead,
So purify thy heart,
Loving the limpid and clean.
Like a clear pool in spring,
With its wondrous mirrored shapes,
So make for the spotless and true,
And, riding the moonbeam, revert to the Spiritual.
Let your gaze be upon the stars of heaven,3
Let your song be of the hiding hermit;3
Like flowing water is our to-day,
Our yesterday, the bright moon."4
"The mind as though in the void,
The vitality as though of the rainbow,
Among the thousand-ell peaks of Wu,
Flying with the clouds, racing with the wind;
Drink of the spiritual, feed on force,
Store them for daily use, guard them in your heart,
Be like Him in His might,1
For this is to preserve your energy;
Be a peer of Heaven and Earth,
A co-worker in Divine transformation… .
Seek to be full of these,
And hold fast to them alway."
"If the mind has wealth and rank,
One may make light of yellow gold.
Rich pleasures pall ere long,
Simple joys deepen ever.
A mist-cloud hanging on the river bank,
Pink almond-flowers along the bough,
A flower-girt cottage beneath the moon,
A painted bridge half seen in shadow,
A golden goblet brimming with wine,
A friend with his hand on the lute… .
Take these and be content;
They will swell thy heart beneath thy robe."
"Stoop, and there it is;
Seek it not right and left.
All roads lead thither,—
One touch and you have spring!2
As though coming upon opening flowers,
As though gazing upon the new year, Verily I will not snatch it,
Forced, it will dwindle away.
I will be like the hermit on the hill,
Like duckweed gathered on the stream,2
And when emotions crowd upon me,
I will leave them to the harmonies of heaven."
"Joying in flowers without let,
Breathing the empyrean,
Through TAO reverting to ether,
And there to be wildly free,
Wide-spreading as the wind of heaven,
Lofty as the peaks of ocean,
Filled with a spiritual strength,
All creation by my side,
Before me the sun, moon, and stars,
The phœnix following behind.
In the morning I whip up my leviathans
And wash my feet in Fusang."2
"Without a word writ down,
All wit may be attained.
If words do not affect the speaker,
They seem inadequate to sorrow3
Herein is the First Cause,
With which we sink or rise,
As wine in the strainer mounts high,
As cold turns back the season of flowers.
The wide-spreading dust-motes in the air,
The sudden spray-bubbles of ocean,
Shallow, deep, collected, scattered,—
You grasp ten thousand, and secure one."
"That they might come back unceasingly,
That they might be ever with us!—
The bright river, unfathomable,
The rare flower just opening,
The parrot of the verdant spring,
The willow-trees, the terrace,
The stranger from the dark hills,
The cup overflowing with clear wine… .
Oh, for life to be extended,
With no dead ashes of writing,
Amid the charms of the Natural,—
Ah, who can compass it?"
"In all things there are veritable atoms,
Though the senses cannot perceive them,
Struggling to emerge into shape
From the wondrous workmanship of God.
Water flowing, flowers budding,
The limpid dew evaporating,
An important road, stretching far,
A dark path where progress is slow… .
So words should not shock,
Nor thought be inept.
But be like the green of spring,
Like snow beneath the moon."1
"Following our own bent,
Enjoying the Natural, free from curb,
Rich with what comes to hand,
Hoping some day to be with God.
To build a hut beneath the pines,
With uncovered head to pore over poetry,
Knowing only morning and eve,
But not what season it may be… .
Then, if happiness is ours,
Why must there be action?
If of our own selves we can reach this point,
Can we not be said to have attained?"
"Lovely is the pine-grove,
With the stream eddying below,
A clear sky and a snow-clad bank,
Fishing-boats in the reach beyond.
And she, like unto jade,
Slowly sauntering, as I follow through the dark wood,
Now moving on, now stopping short,
Far away to the deep valley… .
My mind quits its tenement, and is in the past,
Vague, and not to be recalled,
As though before the glow of the rising moon,
As though before the glory of autumn."
xvii. —IN TORTUOUS WAYS.
"I climbed the T'ai-hsing mountain
By the green winding path,
Vegetation like a sea of jade,
Flower-scent borne far and wide.
Struggling with effort to advance,
A sound escaped my lips,
Which seemed to be lack ere 'twas gone,
As though hidden but not concealed.1
The eddying waters rush to and fro,
Overhead the great rukh soars and sails;
TAO does not limit itself to a shape,
But is round and square by turns."
"Choosing plain words
To express simple thoughts,
Suddenly I happened upon a recluse,
And seemed to see the heart of TAO.
Beside the winding brook,
Beneath dark pine-trees' shade,
There was one stranger bearing a faggot,
Another listening to the lute.
And so, where my fancy led me,
Better than if I had sought it,
I heard the music of heaven,
Astounded by its rare strains."
"A gale ruffles the stream
And trees in the forest crack;
My thoughts are bitter as death,
For she whom I asked will not come.
A hundred years slip by like water,
Riches and rank are but cold ashes,
TAO is daily passing away,
To whom shall we turn for salvation?
The brave soldier draws his sword,
And tears flow with endless lamentation;
The wind whistles, leaves fall,
And rain trickles through the old thatch."
XX.—FORM AND FEATURE.
"After gazing fixedly upon expression and substance
The mind returns with a spiritual image,
As when seeking the outlines of waves,
As when painting the glory of spring.
The changing shapes of wind-swept clouds,
The energies of flowers and plants,
The rolling breakers of ocean,
The crags and cliffs of mountains,
All these are like mighty TAO,
Skilfully woven into earthly surroundings… .
To obtain likeness without form,
Is not that to possess the man?"
"Not of the spirituality of the mind,
Nor yet of the atoms of the cosmos,
But as though reached upon white clouds,
Borne thither by pellucid breezes.
A far, it seems at hand,
Approach,' tis no longer there;
Sharing the nature of TAO,
It shuns the limits of mortality.
It is in the piled-up hills, in tall trees,
In dark mosses, in sunlight rays… .
Croon over it, think upon it;
Its faint sound eludes the ear."
"Without friends, longing to be there,
Alone, away from the common herd,
Like the crane on Mount Hou,
Like the cloud at the peak of Mount Hua.
In the portrait of the hero
The old fire still lingers;
The leaf carried by the wind
Floats on the boundless sea.
It would seem as though not to be grasped,
But always on the point of being disclosed.
Those who recognise this have already attained;
Those who hope, drift daily farther away."
"Life stretches to one hundred years,
And yet how brief a span;
Its joys so fleeting,
Its griefs so many!
What has it like a goblet of wine,
And daily visits to the wistaria arbour,
Where flowers cluster around the eaves,
And light showers pass overhead?
Then when the wine-cup is drained,
To stroll about with staff of thorn;
For who of us but will some day be an ancient? …
Ah, there is the South Mountain in its grandeur!"1
"Like a whirling water-wheel,
Like rolling pearls,—
Yet how are these worthy to be named?
They are but illustrations for fools.
There is the mighty axis of Earth,
The never-resting pole of Heaven;
Let us grasp their clue,
And with them be blended in One,
Beyond the bounds of thought,
Circling for ever in the great Void,
An orbit of a thousand years,—
Yes, this is the key to my theme."
1 Alluding to the huge gilt images of Buddha to be seen in all temples.
1 The other two were Li Po and Tu Fu.
1 Graves are placed by preference on some hillside.
1 Referring to a famous beauty of the Han dynasty, one glance from whom would overthrow a city, two glances an empire.
1 Referring to A-chiao, one of the consorts of an Emperor of the Han dynasty. "Ah," said the latter when a boy, "if I could only get A-chiao, I would have a golden house to keep her in."
1 A fancy name for the women's apartments in the palace.
2 The mandarin duck and drake are emblems of conjugal fidelity. The allusion is to ornaments on the roof.
1 Each bird having only one wing, must always fly with a mate.
2 Such a tree was believed to exist, and has often been figured by the Chinese.
1 The Great Bear.
2 Wine which makes man see spring at all seasons.
3 Emblems of purity.
4 Our previous state of existence at the eternal Centre to which the moon belongs.
1 The Power who, without loss of force, causes things to be what they are-God.
2 Alluding to the art of the painter.
1 A creature of chance, following the doctrine of Inaction.
2 Variously identified with Saghalien, Mexico, and Japan.
3 … Si vis me flere dolendum est Primum ipsi tibi… .
1 Each invisible atom of which combines to produce a perfect whole.
1 Referring to an echo.
1 This remains, while all other things pass away.