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Produced by Henry Flower and the Online Distributed
A HUNDRED AND SEVENTY CHINESE POEMS
CONSTABLE AND COMPANY LTD.
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN.
CHISWICK PRESS: CHARLES WHITTINGHAM AND CO.
TOOKS COURT, CHANCERY LANE, LONDON.
In making this book I have tried to avoid poems which have been translated before. A hundred and forty of those I have chosen have not been translated by any one else. The remaining thirty odd I have included in many cases because the previous versions were full of mistakes; in others, because the works in which they appeared are no longer procurable. Moreover, they are mostly in German, a language with which my readers may not all be acquainted.
With some hesitation I have included literal versions of six poems (three of the “Seventeen Old Poems,” “Autumn Wind,” “Li Fu-j?n,” and “On the Death of his Father”) already skilfully rhymed by Professor Giles in “Chinese Poetry in English Verse.” They were too typical to omit; and a comparison of the two renderings may be of interest. Some of these translations have appeared in the “Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies,” in the “New Statesman,” in the “Little Review” (Chicago), and in “Poetry” (Chicago).
|The Method of Translation||19|
|The Man-Wind and the Woman-Wind||24|
|The Sick Wife||29|
|The Golden Palace||31|
|Meeting in the Road||32|
|Fighting South of the Castle||33|
|The Eastern Gate||34|
|Old and New||35|
|South of the Great Sea||35|
|The Other Side of the Valley||36|
|Oaths of Friendship||37|
|Seventeen Old Poems||39–48|
|The Autumn Wind||48|
|Song of Snow-white Heads||50|
|To his Wife||51|
|Lament of Hsi-chün||53|
|Ch’in Chia’s Wife’s Reply||54|
|Satire on Paying Calls in August||57|
|On the Death of his Father||58|
|The Campaign against Wu||59|
|The Ruins of Lo-yang||60|
|The Curtain of the Wedding Bed||63|
|A Gentle Wind||64|
|The Scholar in the Narrow Street||66|
|The Desecration of the Han Tombs||67|
|The Valley Wind||69|
|Poems by T’ao Ch’ien||71–79|
|Climbing a Mountain||81|
|Five “Tz?-yeh” Songs||83|
|The Little Lady of Ch’ing-hsi||84|
|Plucking the Rushes||84|
|Ballad of the Western Island in the North Country||84|
|Song of the Men of Chin-ling||86|
|The Scholar Recruit||87|
|The Red Hills||87|
|Dreaming of a Dead Lady||88|
|The Rejected Wife||90|
|People hide their Love||91|
|The Waters of Lung-t’ou||92|
|Flowers and Moonlight on the Spring River||92|
|Tell me now||95|
|On Going to a Tavern||96|
|Stone Fish Lake||96|
|A Protest in the Sixth Year of Ch’ien Fu||97|
|On the Birth of his Son||98|
|The Pedlar of Spells||98|
|Boating in Autumn||99|
|How I sailed on the Lake till I came to the Eastern Stream||100|
|A Seventeenth-century Chinese Poem||100|
|By Po Chü-i:|
|An Early Levée||115|
|Being on Duty all night in the Palace and dreaming of the Hsien-yu Temple||116|
|Passing T’ien-m?n Street in Ch’ang-an and seeing a distant View of Chung-nan Mountain||116|
|Rejoicing at the Arrival of Ch’?n Hsiung||118|
|Remembering Golden Bells||120|
|The Dragon of the Black Pool||121|
|The People of Tao-chou||123|
|The Old Harp||125|
|The Harper of Chao||125|
|The Flower Market||126|
|The Chancellor’s Gravel-drive||131|
|The Man who Dreamed of Fairies||132|
|The Two Red Towers||135|
|The Old Man with the Broken Arm||139|
|Kept waiting in the Boat at Chiu-k’ou Ten Days by an adverse Wind||142|
|On Board Ship: Reading Yüan Ch?n’s Poems||142|
|Arriving at Hsün-yang||143|
|Madly Singing in the Mountains||144|
|Releasing a migrant “Yen” (wild Goose)||145|
|To a Portrait Painter who desired him to sit||146|
|Having climbed to the topmost Peak of the Incense-burner Mountain||148|
|The Red Cockatoo||149|
|Alarm at first entering the Yang-tze Gorges||150|
|On being removed from Hsün-yang and sent to Chung-chou||151|
|Planting Flowers on the Eastern Embankment||152|
|Being visited by a Friend during Illness||155|
|On the way to Hangchow: Anchored on the River at Night||155|
|Stopping the Night at Jung-yang||156|
|The Silver Spoon||156|
|The Hat given to the Poet by Li Chien||157|
|The Big Rug||157|
|After getting Drunk, becoming Sober in the Night||158|
|Realizing the Futility of Life||158|
|Rising Late and Playing with A-ts’ui, aged Two||159|
|On a Box containing his own Works||160|
|On being Sixty||161|
|Climbing the Terrace of Kuan-yin and looking at the City||162|
|Climbing the Ling Ying Terrace and looking North||162|
|Going to the Mountains with a little Dancing Girl, aged Fifteen||163|
|Dreaming of Yüan Ch?n||163|
|A Dream of Mountaineering||164|
|On hearing someone sing a Poem by Yüan Ch?n||165|
|Taoism and Buddhism||167|
Principal Chinese Dynasties
- Han, 206 B.C.—A.D. 220.
- Wei, 220-264.
- Chin, 265-419.
- (Northern Wei, ruled over the North of China, 386-532.)
- Liang, 502-556.
- Sui, 589-618.
- T’ang, 618-905.
- Sung, 960-1278.
- Yüan (Mongols), 1260-1341.
- Ming, 1368-1640.
- Ch’ing (Manchus), 1644-1912.
THE LIMITATIONS OF CHINESE LITERATURE
Those who wish to assure themselves that they will lose nothing by ignoring Chinese literature, often ask the question: “Have the Chinese a Homer, an Aeschylus, a Shakespeare or Tolstoy?” The answer must be that China has no epic and no dramatic literature of importance. The novel exists and has merits, but never became the instrument of great writers.
Her philosophic literature knows no mean between the traditionalism of Confucius and the nihilism of Chuang-tz?. In mind, as in body, the Chinese were for the most part torpid mainlanders. Their thoughts set out on no strange quests and adventures, just as their ships discovered no new continents. To most Europeans the momentary flash of Athenian questioning will seem worth more than all the centuries of Chinese assent.
Yet we must recognize that for thousands of years the Chinese maintained a level of rationality and tolerance that the West might well envy. They had no Index, no Inquisition, no Holy Wars. Superstition has indeed played its part among them; but it has never, as in Europe, been perpetually dominant. It follows from the limitations of Chinese thought that the literature of the country should excel in reflection rather than in speculation. That this is particularly true of its poetry will be gauged from the present volume. In the poems of Po Chü-i no close reasoning or philosophic subtlety will be discovered; but a power of candid reflection and self-analysis which has not been rivalled in the West.
Turning from thought to emotion, the most conspicuous feature of European poetry is its pre-occupation with love. This is apparent not only in actual “love-poems,” but in all poetry where the personality of the writer is in any way obtruded. The poet tends to exhibit himself in a romantic light; in fact, to recommend himself as a lover.
The Chinese poet has a tendency different but analogous. He recommends himself not as a lover, but as a friend. He poses as a person of infinite leisure (which is what we should most like our friends to possess) and free from worldly ambitions (which constitute the greatest bars to friendship). He would have us think of him as a boon companion, a great drinker of wine, who will not disgrace a social gathering by quitting it sober.
To the European poet the relation between man and woman is a thing of supreme importance and mystery. To the Chinese, it is something commonplace, obvious—a need of the body, not a satisfaction of the emotions. These he reserves entirely for friendship.
Accordingly we find that while our poets tend to lay stress on physical courage and other qualities which normal women admire, Po Chü-i is not ashamed to write such a poem as “Alarm at entering the Gorges.” Our poets imagine themselves very much as Art has portrayed them—bare-headed and wild-eyed, with shirts unbuttoned at the neck as though they feared that a seizure of emotion might at any minute suffocate them. The Chinese poet introduces himself as a timid recluse, “Reading the Book of Changes at the Northern Window,” playing chess with a Taoist priest, or practising caligraphy with an occasional visitor. If “With a Portrait of the Author” had been the rule in the Chinese book-market, it is in such occupations as these that he would be shown; a neat and tranquil figure compared with our lurid frontispieces.
It has been the habit of Europe to idealize love at the expense of friendship and so to place too heavy a burden on the relation of man and woman. The Chinese erred in the opposite direction, regarding their wives and concubines simply as instruments of procreation. For sympathy and intellectual companionship they looked only to their friends. But these friends were bound by no such tie as held women to their masters; sooner or later they drifted away to frontier campaigns, remote governorships, or country retirement. It would not be an exaggeration to say that half the poems in the Chinese language are poems of parting or separation.
Readers of these translations may imagine that the culture represented by Po Chü-i extended over the whole vast confines of China. This would, I think, be an error. Culture is essentially a metropolitan product. Chü-i was as much dépaysé at a provincial town as Charles Lamb would have been at Botany Bay. But the system of Chinese bureaucracy tended constantly to break up the literary coteries which formed at the capitals, and to drive the members out of the little corner of Shensi and Honan which to them was “home.”
It was chiefly economic necessity which forced the poets of China into the meshes of bureaucracy—backed by the Confucian insistence on public service. To such as were landowners there remained the alternative of agricultural life, arduous and isolated.
The poet, then, usually passed through three stages of existence. In the first we find him with his friends at the capital, drinking, writing, and discussing: burdened by his office probably about as much as Pepys was burdened by his duties at the Admiralty. Next, having failed to curry favour with the Court, he is exiled to some provincial post, perhaps a thousand miles from anyone he cares to talk to. Finally, having scraped together enough money to buy husbands for his daughters, he retires to a small estate, collecting round him the remnants of those with whom he had shared the “feasts and frolics of old days.”
I have spoken hitherto only of poets. But the poetess occupies a place of considerable importance in the first four centuries of our era, though the classical period (T’ang and Sung) produced no great woman writer. Her theme varies little; she is almost always a “rejected wife,” cast adrift by her lord or sent back to her home. Probably her father would be unable to buy her another husband and there was no place for unmarried women in the Chinese social system. The moment, then, which produced such poems was one of supreme tragedy in a woman’s life.