A Lute of Jade by L. Cranmer-ByngBeing Selections from the Classical Poets of China

A Lute of Jade: Being Selections from the Classical Poets of China by L. Cranmer-Byng A LUTE OF JADE To Professor Herbert Giles A Lute of Jade Being Selections from the Classical Poets of China Rendered with an Introduction by L. Cranmer-Byng Author of “The Odes of Confucius” With lutes of gold and lutes of
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  • 1909
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A Lute of Jade: Being Selections from the Classical Poets of China by L. Cranmer-Byng

[Note on text: Italicized words or phrases are capitalized. Some slight errors have been corrected.]

[Due to the method of transliteration used in this text, including many accent marks (and some strange ones), please refer to the following chart to see how these words originally appeared, and how they are presented in this text. In each case, the line with the letters is the same as in the text, and the accent marks are on the line above.

Names of People
” ” ^ ^ “
Ch`u Yuan Meng Hao-jan Ts`en-Ts`an Po Chu-i

” ^ * *
Ssu-K`ung T`u T`ai Chen Lao Tzu Chuang Tzu

Names of Places
* “
Ssuch`uan Ch`u

The accent marked by an asterisk resembles the lower half of a circle.

It is noted in the appendix that Mr. Lionel Giles is responsible for these transliterations.]

[This etext has been transcribed from a New York edition of 1909. Please note that not only is the system of transliteration out of date (though perhaps still easier to use than the current standard), but other things may be out of date as well. The study of Chinese literature has come a long way from the time when Mr. Cranmer-Byng had to include books in four languages to come up with a short bibliography. Still, this book may serve well as an introduction to the subject.]


To Professor Herbert Giles

A Lute of Jade

Being Selections from the Classical Poets of China

Rendered with an Introduction
by L. Cranmer-Byng
Author of “The Odes of Confucius”

With lutes of gold and lutes of Jade
Li Po


The Ancient Ballads
Poetry before the T`angs
The Poets of the T`ang Dynasty
A Poet’s Emperor
Chinese Verse Form
The Influence of Religion on Chinese Poetry

The Odes of Confucius
Trysting Time
The Soldier

Ch`u Yuan
The Land of Exile

Wang Seng-ju

Ch`en Tzu Ang
The Last Revel

Sung Chih-Wen
The Court of Dreams

Impressions of a Traveller

Meng Hao-jan
The Lost One
A Friend Expected

Ch`ang Ch`ien
A Night on the Mountain

A Dream of Spring

Tu Fu
The Little Rain
A Night of Song
The Recruiting Sergeant
Chants of Autumn

Li Po
To the City of Nan-king
Memories with the Dusk Return
An Emperor’s Love
On the Banks of Jo-yeh
Thoughts in a Tranquil Night
The Guild of Good-fellowship
Under the Moon

Wang Ch`ang-ling
The Song of the Nenuphars
Tears in the Spring

Chang Chih-ho
A World Apart

Chang Jo-hu

T`ung Han-ching
The Celestial Weaver

Po Chu-i
The Lute Girl
The Never-ending Wrong
The River and the Leaf
Lake Shang
The Ruined Home
A Palace Story
Peaceful Old Age
The Grass
Autumn across the Frontier
The Flower Fair
The Penalties of Rank
The Island of Pines
The Ancient Wind

Li Hua
An Old Battle-field

Ssu-K`ung T`u
Return of Spring
The Colour of Life
Set Free
Tranquil Repose
The Poet’s Vision

Ou-Yang Hsiu of Lu-ling
At the Graveside


Editorial Note

The object of the Editors of this series is a very definite one. They desire above all things that, in their humble way, these books shall be the ambassadors of good-will and understanding between East and West — the old world of Thought and the new of Action. In this endeavour, and in their own sphere, they are but followers of the highest example in the land. They are confident that a deeper knowledge of the great ideals and lofty philosophy of Oriental thought may help to a revival of that true spirit of Charity which neither despises nor fears the nations of another creed and colour. Finally, in thanking press and public for the very cordial reception given to this Series, they wish to state that no pains have been spared to secure the best specialists for the treatment of the various subjects at hand.
L. Cranmer-Byng. S. A. Kapadia.
Northbrook Society,
185 Piccadilly, W.

A Lute of Jade


The Ancient Ballads

A little under three hundred years, from A.D. 618 to 906, the period of the T`ang dynasty, and the great age of Chinese poetry had come and gone. Far back in the twilight of history, at least 1,700 years before Christ, the Chinese people sang their songs of kings and feudal princes good or bad, of husbandry, or now and then songs with the more personal note of simple joys and sorrows. All things in these Odes collected by Confucius belong to the surface of life; they are the work of those who easily plough light furrows, knowing nothing of hidden gold. Only at rare moments of exaltation or despair do we hear the lyrical cry rising above the monotone of dreamlike content. Even the magnificent outburst at the beginning of this book, in which the unhappy woman compares her heart to a dying moon, is prefaced by vague complaint:

My brothers, although they support me not, Are angry if I speak of my sadness.

My sadness is so great,
Nearly all are jealous of me;
Many calumnies attack me,
And scorning spares me not.
Yet what harm have I done?
I can show a clear conscience.

Yes, the conscience is clear and the song is clear, and so these little streams flow on, shining in the clear dawn of a golden past to which all poets and philosophers to come will turn with wistful eyes. These early ballads of the Chinese differ in feeling from almost all the ballad literature of the world. They are ballads of peace, while those of other nations are so often war-songs and the remembrances of brave deeds. Many of them are sung to a refrain. More especially is this the case with those whose lines breathe sadness, where the refrain comes like a sigh at the end of a regret:
Cold from the spring the waters pass Over the waving pampas grass,
All night long in dream I lie,
Ah me! ah me! to awake and sigh — Sigh for the City of Chow.

Cold from its source the stream meanders Darkly down through the oleanders,
All night long in dream I lie,
Ah me! ah me! to awake and sigh — Sigh for the City of Chow.

In another place the refrain urges and importunes; it is time for flight:
Cold and keen the north wind blows, Silent falls the shroud of snows.
You who gave me your heart,
Let us join hands and depart!
Is this a time for delay?
Now, while we may,
Let us away.

Only the lonely fox is red,
Black but the crow-flight overhead. You who gave me your heart —
The chariot creaks to depart.
Is this a time for delay?
Now, while we may,
Let us away.

Perhaps these Odes may best be compared with the little craftless figures in an early age of pottery, when the fragrance of the soil yet lingered about the rough clay. The maker of the song was a poet, and knew it not. The maker of the bowl was an artist, and knew it not. You will get no finish from either — the lines are often blurred, the design but half fulfilled; and yet the effect is not inartistic. It has been well said that greatness is but another name for interpretation; and in so far as these nameless workmen of old interpreted themselves and the times in which they lived, they have attained enduring greatness.

Poetry before the T`angs

Following on the Odes, we have much written in the same style, more often than not by women, or songs possibly written to be sung by them, always in a minor key, fraught with sadness, yet full of quiet resignation and pathos.

It is necessary to mention in passing the celebrated Ch`u Yuan (fourth cent. B.C.), minister and kinsman of a petty kinglet under the Chou dynasty, whose `Li Sao’, literally translated `Falling into Trouble’, is partly autobiography and partly imagination. His death by drowning gave rise to the great Dragon-boat Festival, which was originally a solemn annual search for the body of the poet.

Soon a great national dynasty arrives whose Emperors are often patrons of literature and occasionally poets as well. The House of Han (200 B.C.-A.D. 200) has left its mark upon the Empire of China, whose people of to-day still call themselves “Sons of Han”. There were Emperors beloved of literary men, Emperors beloved of the people, builders of long waterways and glittering palaces, and one great conqueror, the Emperor Wu Ti, of almost legendary fame. This was an age of preparation and development of new forces. Under the Hans, Buddhism first began to flourish. The effect is seen in the poetry of the time, especially towards the closing years of this dynasty. The minds of poets sought refuge in the ideal world from the illusions of the senses.

The third century A.D. saw the birth of what was probably the first literary club ever known, the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. This little coterie of friends was composed of seven famous men, who possessed many talents in common, being poets and musicians, alchemists, philosophers, and mostly hard drinkers as well. Their poetry, however, is scarcely memorable. Only one great name stands between them and the poets of the T`ang dynasty — the name of T`ao Ch`ien (A.D. 365-427), whose exquisite allegory “The Peach Blossom Fountain” is quoted by Professor Giles in his `Chinese Literature’. The philosophy of this ancient poet appears to have been that of Horace. `Carpe diem!’

“Ah, how short a time it is that we are here! Why then not set our hearts at rest, ceasing to trouble whether we remain or go? What boots it to wear out the soul with anxious thoughts? I want not wealth; I want not power: heaven is beyond my hopes. Then let me stroll through the bright hours as they pass, in my garden among my flowers, or I will mount the hill and sing my song, or weave my verse beside the limpid brook. Thus will I work out my allotted span, content with the appointments of Fate, my spirit free from care.”* For him enjoyment and scarcely happiness is the thing. And although many of his word-pictures are not lacking in charm or colour, they have but little significance beyond them. They are essentially the art works of an older school than that of the Seven Sages. But we must have due regard for them, for they only miss greatness by a little, and remind us of the faint threnodies that stir in the throats of bird musicians upon the dawn.

* Giles, `Chinese Literature’, p. 130. —

The Poets of the T`ang Dynasty

At last the golden age of Chinese poetry is at hand. Call the roll of these three hundred eventful years, and all the great masters of song will answer you. This is an age of professional poets, whom emperors and statesmen delight to honour. With the Chinese, verse-making has always been a second nature. It is one of the accomplishments which no man of education would be found lacking. Colonel Cheng-Ki-Tong, in his delightful book `The Chinese Painted by Themselves’, says: “Poetry has been in China, as in Greece, the language of the gods. It was poetry that inculcated laws and maxims; it was by the harmony of its lines that traditions were handed down at a time when memory had to supply the place of writing; and it was the first language of wisdom and of inspiration.” It has been above all the recreation of statesmen and great officials, a means of escape from the weariness of public life and the burden of ruling. A study of the interminable biographies of Chinese poets and men of letters would reveal but a few professional poets, men whose lives were wholly devoted to their art; and of these few the T`ang dynasty can claim nearly all. Yet strange as it may seem, this matters but little when the quality of Chinese poetry is considered. The great men of the age were at once servants of duty and the lords of life. To them official routine and the responsibilities of the state were burdens to be borne along the highway, with periods of rest and intimate re-union with nature to cheer the travellers. When the heavy load was laid aside, song rose naturally from the lips. Subtly connecting the arts, they were at once painters and poets, musicians and singers. And because they were philosophers and seekers after the beauty that underlies the form of things, they made the picture express its own significance, and every song find echo in the souls of those that heard. You will find no tedium of repetition in all their poetry, no thin vein of thought beaten out over endless pages. The following extract from an ancient treatise on the art of poetry called `Ming-Chung’ sets forth most clearly certain ideals to be pursued:

“To make a good poem, the subject must be interesting, and treated in an attractive manner; genius must shine throughout the whole, and be supported by a graceful, brilliant, and sublime style. The poet ought to traverse, with a rapid flight, the lofty regions of philosophy, without deviating from the narrow way of truth. . . . Good taste will only pardon such digressions as bring him towards his end, and show it from a more striking point of view.

“Disappointment must attend him, if he speaks without speaking to the purpose, or without describing things with that fire, with that force, and with that energy which present them to the mind as a painting does to the eyes. Bold thought, untiring imagination, softness and harmony, make a true poem.

“One must begin with grandeur, paint everything expressed, soften the shades of those which are of least importance, collect all into one point of view, and carry the reader thither with a rapid flight.”

Yet when due respect has been paid to this critic of old time, the fact still remains that concentration and suggestion are the two essentials of Chinese poetry. There is neither Iliad nor Odyssey to be found in the libraries of the Chinese; indeed, a favourite feature of their verse is the “stop short”, a poem containing only four lines, concerning which another critic has explained that only the words stop, while the sense goes on. But what a world of meaning is to be found between four short lines! Often a door is opened, a curtain drawn aside, in the halls of romance, where the reader may roam at will. With this nation of artists in emotion, the taste of the tea is a thing of lesser importance; it is the aroma which remains and delights. The poems of the T`angs are full of this subtle aroma, this suggestive compelling fragrance which lingers when the songs have passed away. It is as though the Aeolian harps had caught some strayed wind from an unknown world, and brought strange messages from peopled stars.

A deep simplicity touching many hidden springs, a profound regard for the noble uses of leisure, things which modern critics of life have taught us to despise — these are the technique and the composition and colour of all their work.

Complete surrender to a particular mood until the mood itself surrenders to the artist, and afterwards silent ceaseless toil until a form worthy of its expression has been achieved — this is the method of Li Po and his fellows. And as for leisure, it means life with all its possibilities of beauty and romance. The artist is ever saying, “Stay a little while! See, I have captured one moment from eternity.” Yet it is only in the East that poetry is truly appreciated, by those to whom leisure to look around them is vital as the air they breathe. This explains the welcome given by Chinese Emperors and Caliphs of Bagdad to all roving minstrels in whose immortality, like flies in amber, they are caught.

A Poet’s Emperor

In the long list of imperial patrons the name of the Emperor Ming Huang of the T`ang dynasty holds the foremost place. History alone would not have immortalized his memory.* But romance is nearer to this Emperor’s life than history. He was not a great ruler, but an artist stifled in ceremony and lost in statecraft. Yet what Emperor could escape immortality who had Tu Fu and Li Po for contemporaries, Ch`ang-an for his capital, and T`ai Chen of a thousand songs to wife? Poet and sportsman, mystic and man of this world, a great polo player, and the passionate lover of one beautiful woman whose ill-starred fate inspired Po Chu-i, the tenderest of all their singers,** Ming Huang is more to literature than to history. Of his life and times the poets are faithful recorders. Tu Fu in `The Old Man of Shao-Ling’ leaves us this memory of his peaceful days passed in the capital, before the ambition of the Turkic general An Lu-shan had driven his master into exile in far Ssuch`uan. The poet himself is speaking in the character of a lonely old man, wandering slowly down the winding banks of the river Kio.

* A.D. 685-762.

** See and .

“`Alas!’ he murmured, `they are closed, the thousand palace doors, mirrored in clear cool waters. The young willows and the rushes renewing with the year — for whom will they now grow green?’

“Once in the garden of the South waved the standard of the Emperor.

“All that nature yields was there, vying with the rarest hues.

“There lived she whom the love of the first of men had made first among women.

“She who rode in the imperial chariot, in the excursions on sunny days.

“Before the chariot flashed the bright escort of maidens armed with bow and arrow.

“Mounted upon white steeds which pawed the ground, champing their golden bits.

“Gaily they raised their heads, launching their arrows into the clouds,

“And, laughing, uttered joyous cries when a bird fell victim to their skill.”

In the city of Ch`ang-an, with its triple rows of glittering walls with their tall towers uprising at intervals, its seven royal palaces all girdled with gardens, its wonderful Yen tower nine stories high, encased in marble, the drum towers and bell towers, the canals and lakes with their floating theatres, dwelt Ming Huang and T`ai Chen. Within the royal park on the borders of the lake stood a little pavilion round whose balcony crept jasmine and magnolia branches scenting the air. Just underneath flamed a tangle of peonies in bloom, leaning down to the calm blue waters. Here in the evening the favourite reclined, watching the peonies vie with the sunset beyond. Here the Emperor sent his minister for Li Po, and here the great lyrist set her mortal beauty to glow from the scented, flower-haunted balustrade immortally through the twilights yet to come.

What matter if the snow
Blot out the garden? She shall still recline Upon the scented balustrade and glow
With spring that thrills her warm blood into wine.

Once, and once alone, the artist in Ming Huang was merged in the Emperor. In that supreme crisis of the empire and a human soul, when the mutinous soldiers were thronging about the royal tent and clamouring for the blood of the favourite, it was the Emperor who sent her forth —

lily pale,
Between tall avenues of spears, to die.
Policy, the bane of artists demanded it, and so, for the sake of a thousand issues and a common front to the common foe, he placed the love of his life upon the altar of his patriotism, and went, a broken-hearted man, into the long exile. From that moment the Emperor died. History ceases to take interest in the crownless wanderer. His return to the place of tragedy, and on to the capital where the deserted palace awaits him with its memories, his endless seeking for the soul of his beloved, her discovery by the priest of Tao in that island of P`eng Lai where —
gaily coloured towers
Rise up like rainbow clouds, and many gentle And beautiful Immortals pass their days in peace,
her message to her lover with its splendid triumphant note of faith foretelling their reunion at the last — in fine, the story of their love with the grave between them — is due to the genius of Po Chu-i. And to all poets coming after, these two lovers have been types of romantic and mystic love between man and woman. Through them the symbols of the mandarin duck and drake, the one-winged birds, the tree whose boughs are interwoven, are revealed. They are the earthly counterparts of the heavenly lovers, the Cow-herd and the Spinning-maid in the constellations of Lyra and Aquila. To them Chinese poetry owes some of its finest inspirations, and at least two of its greatest singers, Tu Fu and Li Po.

Chinese Verse Form

In passing it is necessary to refer to the structure of Chinese verse, which, difficult as it is to grasp and differing in particulars from our European ideas of technique, has considerable interest for the student of verse form and construction.

The favourite metres of the T`ang poets were in lines of five or seven syllables. There is no fixed rule as regards the length of a poem, but, generally speaking, they were composed of four, eight, twelve, or sixteen lines. Only the even lines rhyme, except in the four-line or stop-short poem, when the first line often rhymes with the second and fourth, curiously recalling the Rubaiyat form of the Persian poets. There is also a break or caesura which in five-syllable verses falls after the second syllable and in seven-syllable verses after the fourth. The Chinese also make use of two kinds of tone in their poetry, the Ping or even, and the Tsze or oblique.

The even tone has two variations differing from each other only in pitch; the oblique tone has three variations, known as “Rising, Sinking, and Entering.” In a seven-syllable verse the odd syllables can have any tone; as regards the even syllables, when the second syllable is even, then the fourth is oblique, and the sixth even. Furthermore, lines two and three, four and five, six and seven, have the same tones on the even syllables. The origin of the Chinese tone is not a poetical one, but is undoubtedly due to the necessity of having some distinguishing method of accentuation in a language which only contains about four hundred different sounds.

The Influence of Religion on Chinese Poetry

To Confucius, as has been already stated, is due that groundwork of Chinese poetry — the Odes. But the master gave his fellow countrymen an ethical system based upon sound common sense, and a deep knowledge of their customs and characteristics. There is little in the Confucian classics to inspire a poet, and we must turn to Buddhism and the mystical philosophy of Lao Tzu for any source of spiritual inspiration from which the poets have drawn. Buddhism and Taoism are sisters. Their parents are self-observance and the Law. Both are quietists, yet in this respect they differ, that the former is the grey quietist, the latter the pearl. The neutral tint is better adapted to the sister in whose eyes all things are Maya — illusion. The shimmer of pearl belongs of right to her whose soul reflects the colour and quiet radiance of a thousand dreams. Compassion urged the one, the love of harmony led the other. How near they were akin! how far apart they have wandered! Yet there has always been this essential difference between them, that while the Buddhist regards the senses as windows looking out upon unreality and mirage, to the Taoist they are doors through which the freed soul rushes to mingle with the colours and tones and contours of the universe. Both Buddha and Lao Tzu are poets, one listening to the rhythm of infinite sorrow, one to the rhythm of infinite joy. Neither knows anything of reward at the hands of men or angels. The teaching of the Semitic religions, “Do good to others that you may benefit at their hands,” does not occur in their pages, nor any hints of sensuous delights hereafter.* In all the great Buddhist poems, of which the Shu Hsing Tsan Ching is the best example, there is the same deep sadness, the haunting sorrow of doom. To look on beautiful things is only to feel more poignantly the passing of bright days, and the time when the petals must leave the rose. The form of desire hides within it the seeds of decay. In this epic of which I have spoken, Buddha sees the lovely and virtuous Lady Aruna coming to greet him, says to his disciples:

* This is a simplistic and inaccurate picture of religious teachings. Mr. Cranmer-Byng, like many cross-cultural scholars, seems to have fallen into the trap of seeing only noble things afar, and only ignoble things at hand. As counter-examples, there are numerous schools of Buddhism, some of which DO offer a type of heaven; and the Confucian ideal of reciprocity can easily be, and often has been, misinterpreted in the same way as Semitic religions. — A. Light, 1995. —

“This woman is indeed exceedingly beautiful, able to fascinate the minds of the religious; so then keep your recollections straight! Let wisdom keep your mind in subjection! Better fall into the fierce tiger’s mouth, or under the sharp knife of the executioner, than to dwell with a woman. . . . A woman is anxious to exhibit her form and shape, whether walking, standing, sitting, or even sleeping; even when represented as a picture, she desires most of all to set off the blandishments of her beauty, and thus rob men of their steadfast heart! How then ought you to guard yourselves? By regarding her tears and her smiles as enemies, her stooping form, her hanging arms, and all her disentangled hair as toils designed to entrap man’s heart. Then how much more should you suspect her studied, amorous beauty! when she displays her dainty outline, her richly ornamented form, and chatters gaily with the foolish man! Ah, then! what perturbation and what evil thoughts, not seeing underneath the sorrows of impermanence, the impurity, the unreality! Considering these as the reality, all desires die out.”*

* `Sacred Books of the East’, vol. 19 pp. 253-4. —

How different is this meeting of beauty and Buddhism from the meeting of Ssu-K`ung T`u, the great Taoist poet, with an unknown girl!
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.*

Here is reality emerging from the unreal, spring renewing, love and beauty triumphant over death and decay. The girl is the central type and symbol. From her laughing eyes a thousand dead women look out once more on spring, through her poets find their inspiration. Beauty is the key that unlocks the secrets of the frozen world, and brings the dead to life again.

* `History of Chinese Literature’, by Professor Herbert Giles, p. 180. —

The Symbol of Decay!

The Symbol of Immortality!

It is perhaps both. There are times when the grave words of the Dhammapada fall like shadows along the path: “What is life but the flower or the fruit which falls when ripe, yet ever fears the untimely frost? Once born, there is naught but sorrow; for who is there can escape death? From the first moment of life, the result of passionate love and desire, there is nought but the bodily form transitional as the lightning flash.” Yet apart from all transitory passions and the ephemeral results of mortal love, the song of the Taoist lover soars unstained, untrammelled. Man attains not by himself, nor woman by herself, but, like the one-winged birds of the Chinese legend, they must rise together. To be a great lover is to be a great mystic, since in the highest conception of mortal beauty that the mind can form there lies always the unattainable, the unpossessed, suggesting the world of beauty and finality beyond our mortal reach. It is in this power of suggestion that the Chinese poets excel. Asked to differentiate between European and Chinese poetry, some critics would perhaps insist upon their particular colour sense, instancing the curious fact that where we see blue to them it often appears green, and vice versa, or the tone theories that make their poems so difficult to understand; in fact, a learned treatise would be written on these lines, to prove that the Chinese poets were not human beings as we understand humanity at all. It is, however, not by this method that we can begin to trace the difference between the poets of East and West, but in the two aspects of life which no amount of comparison can reconcile.

To the Chinese such commonplace things as marriage, friendship, and home have an infinitely deeper meaning than can be attached to them by civilisation which practically lives abroad, in the hotels and restaurants and open houses of others, where there is no sanctity of the life within, no shrine set apart for the hidden family re-union, and the cult of the ancestral spirit. To the Western world, life, save for the conventional hour or so set aside on the seventh day, is a thing profane. In the far East the head of every family is a high-priest in the calling of daily life. It is for this reason that a quietism is to be found in Chinese poetry ill appealing to the unrest of our day, and as dissimilar to our ideals of existence as the life of the planets is to that of the dark bodies whirling aimlessly through space.

The Odes of Confucius

1765-585 B.C.

Collected by Confucius about 500 B.C.


The sun is ever full and bright,
The pale moon waneth night by night. Why should this be?

My heart that once was full of light
Is but a dying moon to-night.

But when I dream of thee apart,
I would the dawn might lift my heart, O sun, to thee.

Trysting Time


A pretty girl at time o’ gloaming
Hath whispered me to go and meet her Without the city gate.
I love her, but she tarries coming. Shall I return, or stay and greet her?
I burn, and wait.


Truly she charmeth all beholders,
‘Tis she hath given me this jewel,
The jade of my delight;
But this red jewel-jade that smoulders, To my desire doth add more fuel,
New charms to-night.


She has gathered with her lily fingers A lily fair and rare to see.
Oh! sweeter still the fragrance lingers From the warm hand that gave it me.

The Soldier

I climbed the barren mountain,
And my gaze swept far and wide
For the red-lit eaves of my father’s home, And I fancied that he sighed:
My son has gone for a soldier,
For a soldier night and day;
But my son is wise, and may yet return, When the drums have died away.

I climbed the grass-clad mountain,
And my gaze swept far and wide
For the rosy lights of a little room, Where I thought my mother sighed:
My boy has gone for a soldier,
He sleeps not day and night;
But my boy is wise, and may yet return, Though the dead lie far from sight.

I climbed the topmost summit,
And my gaze swept far and wide
For the garden roof where my brother stood, And I fancied that he sighed:
My brother serves as a soldier
With his comrades night and day; But my brother is wise, and may yet return, Though the dead lie far away.

Ch`u Yuan

Fourth Century, B.C.

A loyal minister to the feudal Prince of Ch`u, towards the close of the Chou dynasty. His master having, through disregard of his counsel, been captured by the Ch`in State, Ch`u Yuan sank into disfavour with his sons, and retired to the hills, where he wrote his famous `Li Sao’, of which the following is one of the songs. He eventually drowned himself in the river Mi-Lo, and in spite of the search made for his body, it was never found. The Dragon-boat Festival, held on the fifth day of the fifth moon, was founded in his honour.

The Land of Exile

Methinks there’s a genius
Roams in the mountains,
Girdled with ivy
And robed in wisteria,
Lips ever smiling,
Of noble demeanour,
Driving the yellow pard,
Couched in a chariot
With banners of cassia,
Cloaked with the orchid,
And crowned with azaleas;
Culling the perfume
Of sweet flowers, he leaves
In the heart a dream-blossom,
Memory haunting.
But dark is the forest
Where now is my dwelling,
Never the light of day
Reaches its shadow.
Thither a perilous
Pathway meanders.
Lonely I stand
On the lonelier hill-top,
Cloudland beneath me
And cloudland around me.
Softly the wind bloweth,
Softly the rain falls,
Joy like a mist blots
The thoughts of my home out;
There none would honour me,
Fallen from honours.
I gather the larkspur
Over the hillside,
Blown mid the chaos
Of boulder and bellbine;
Hating the tyrant
Who made me an outcast,
Who of his leisure
Now spares me no moment:
Drinking the mountain spring,
Shading at noon-day
Under the cypress
My limbs from the sun glare.
What though he summon me
Back to his palace,
I cannot fall
To the level of princes.
Now rolls the thunder deep,
Down the cloud valley,
And the gibbons around me
Howl in the long night.
The gale through the moaning trees
Fitfully rushes.
Lonely and sleepless
I think of my thankless
Master, and vainly would
Cradle my sorrow.

Wang Seng-ju

Sixth Century, A.D.


High o’er the hill the moon barque steers. The lantern lights depart.
Dead springs are stirring in my heart; And there are tears. . . .
But that which makes my grief more deep Is that you know not when I weep.

Ch`en Tzu Ang

A.D. 656-698

Famous for writing that kind of impromptu descriptive verse which the Chinese call “Ying”. In temperament he was less Chinese than most of his contemporaries. His passionate disposition finally brought him into trouble with the magistrate of his district, who had him cast into prison, where he died at the age of forty-two.

Whatever his outward demeanour may have been, his poetry gives us no indication of it, being full of delicate mysticism, almost impossible to reproduce in the English language. For this reason I have chosen one of his simpler poems as a specimen.

The Last Revel

From silver lamps a thin blue smoke is streaming, And golden vases ‘mid the feast are gleaming; Now sound the lutes in unison,
Within the gates our lives are one. We’ll think not of the parting ways
As long as dawn delays.

When in tall trees the dying moonbeams quiver: When floods of fire efface the Silver River, Then comes the hour when I must seek
Lo-Yang beyond the furthest peak. But the warm twilight round us twain
Will never rise again.

Sung Chih-Wen

Died A.D. 710

The son of a distinguished general, he began his career as attache to the military advisers of the Emperor. These advisers were always drawn from the literary class, and their duties appear to have been chiefly administrative and diplomatic. Of his life, the less said the better. He became involved in a palace intrigue, and only saved himself by betraying his accomplices. In the end he was banished, and finally put to death by the Emperor’s order. It is necessary, however, to dissociate the man from his poetry, and Sung Chih-Wen’s poetry often touches a high level of inspiration.

The Court of Dreams

Rain from the mountains of Ki-Sho
Fled swiftly with a tearing breeze; The sun came radiant down the west,
And greener blushed the valley trees.

I entered through the convent gate:
The abbot bade me welcome there,
And in the court of silent dreams
I lost the thread of worldly care.

That holy man and I were one,
Beyond the bounds that words can trace: The very flowers were still as we.
I heard the lark that hung in space, And Truth Eternal flashed on me.


Circa A.D. 700

One of the most fascinating of all the T`ang poets. His life was one long series of romantic adventure. At first, a poor youth battling with adversity; then the lover of an actress, whom he followed through the provinces, play-writing for the strolling troupe to which she was attached; the next, secretary to a high personage engaged in a mission to Thibet; then soldier, and finally poet of renown, acquiring with his latter years the fortune and honours denied him in his youth.

The chief characteristics of his poetry are intense concentration, a vivid power of impressionism, and a strong leaning in the direction of the occult. Indeed, one of his best-known poems, “The Return to the Mountains”, makes mention of the projection of the astral body through space during sleep. Many of his poems leave us with a strange sense of horror which is suggested rather than revealed. It is always some combination of effects which produces this result, and never a concrete form.

Impressions of a Traveller

In a silent, desolate spot,
In the night stone-frozen and clear, The wanderer’s hand on the sail
Is gripped by the fingers of fear.

He looketh afar o’er the waves,
Wind-ruffled and deep and green;
And the mantle of Autumn lies
Over wood and hill and ravine.

‘Tis Autumn! — time of decay,
And the dead leaves’ ‘wildering flight; And the mantle of Autumn lies
On the wanderer’s soul to-night!



There was a King of Liang* — a king of wondrous might — Who kept an open palace, where music charmed the night —


Since he was Lord of Liang a thousand years have flown, And of the towers he builded yon ruin stands alone.


There reigns a heavy silence; gaunt weeds through windows pry, And down the streets of Liang old echoes, wailing, die.

* Strictly speaking, the pronunciation of all words such as Liang, Kiang, etc., is nearer one syllable than two. For purposes of euphony, however, without which the lines would be harsh and unpoetical, I have invariably made two syllables of them. —

Meng Hao-jan

A.D. 689-740

One of the few literary men of the day whose later life was devoted entirely to literature. He was the inseparable friend of the famous Buddhist poet and doctor, Wang Wei. He spent the first forty years of his life in acquiring knowledge, but having failed to obtain his doctor’s degree, he returned to the quiet hills of his native province and dedicated his remaining years to composition. Most of his poems, other than certain political satire, which drew on him the Emperor’s wrath, are full of subtle sadness and fragrant regret, reminding one of pot-pourri in some deep blue porcelain bowl.

The Lost One

The red gleam o’er the mountains
Goes wavering from sight,
And the quiet moon enhances
The loveliness of night.

I open wide my casement
To breathe the rain-cooled air.
And mingle with the moonlight
The dark waves of my hair.

The night wind tells me secrets
Of lotus lilies blue;
And hour by hour the willows
Shake down the chiming dew.

I fain would take the zither,
By some stray fancy led;
But there are none to hear me,
And who can charm the dead?

So all my day-dreams follow
The bird that leaves the nest;
And in the night I gather
The lost one to my breast.

A Friend Expected

Over the chain of giant peaks
The great red sun goes down,
And in the stealthy floods of night The distant valleys drown.

Yon moon that cleaves the gloomy pines Has freshness in her train;
Low wind, faint stream, and waterfall Haunt me with their refrain.

The tired woodman seeks his cot
That twinkles up the hill;
And sleep has touched the wanderers That sang the twilight still.

To-night — ah! beauty of to-night
I need my friend to praise,
So take the lute to lure him on
Through the fragrant, dew-lit ways.

Ch`ang Ch`ien

Circa A.D. 720

One of the great philosopher-poets of the Taoist school. His life was spent far from the court and away from the sounds of civil warfare, in the endeavour to set himself in harmony with the universe — to become, in fact, like an Aeolian harp through which all the cords of nature might sweep at will. How far he attained the end desired may be seen in his work, which is penetrated by a sense of profound beauty, recalling the quiet twilight upon the mountain-side, which he so well describes.

A Night on the Mountain

I sat upon the mountain-side and watched A tiny barque that skimmed across the lake, Drifting, like human destiny upon
A world of hidden peril; then she sailed From out my ken, and mingled with the blue Of skies unfathomed, while the great round sun Weakened towards the waves.
The whole expanse
Suddenly in the half-light of the dusk Glimmered and waned. The last rays of the sun Lit but the tops of trees and mountain-peaks With tarnished glory; and the water’s sheen, Once blue and bright, grew lustreless, and soon A welter of red clouds alone betrayed
The passing of the sun. The scattered isles Uprose, black-looming o’er the tranquil deeps, Where the reflected heavens wanly showed A lingering gleam. Already wood and hill Sank in obscurity. The river marge
Seemed but a broken line to failing sight.

. . . . .

Night is at hand; the night winds fret afar, The North winds moan. The waterfowl are gone To cover o’er the sand-dunes; dawn alone Shall call them from the sedges. Some bright star

Mirrors her charms upon the silver shoal; And I have ta’en the lute, my only friend: The vibrant chords beneath my fingers blend; They sob awhile, then as they slip control

Immortal memories awake, and the dead years Through deathless voices answer to my strings, Till from the brink of Time’s untarnished springs The melting night recalls me with her tears.


Circa A.D. 750

Of his life we know little, save that he was the intimate friend of the great poet Tu Fu, and came of a noble family. He was, moreover, Censor under the Emperor Su Tsung (A.D. 756-762), and rose to be Governor of Chia-chou. What remains of his verse mostly takes the form of quatrains, yet for originality of thought, wealth of imagery and style, they have seldom been excelled. He was a master of metre, and contributed certain modifications to the laws of Chinese prosody which exist to the present day.

A Dream of Spring

Last night within my chamber’s gloom some vague light breath of Spring Came wandering and whispering, and bade my soul take wing.

A hundred moonlit miles away the Chiang crept to sea; O keeper of my heart, I came by Chiang’s ford to thee.

It lingered but a moment’s space, that dream of Spring, and died; Yet as my head the pillows pressed, my soul had found thy side.

Oh! Chiang Nan’s a hundred miles, yet in a moment’s space I’ve flown away to Chiang Nan and touched a dreaming face.

Tu Fu

A.D. 712-770

Tu Fu, whom his countrymen called the God of Verse, was born in the province of Hu-Kuang, and this was his portrait from contemporaries:

He was tall and slightly built, yet robust with finely chiselled features; his manners were exquisite, and his appearance distinguished. He came of a literary family, and, as he says of himself, from his seventh to his fortieth year study and letter occupied all his available time. At the age of twenty-seven he came to the capital with his fame in front of him, and there Li Po the poet and Ts`en-Ts`an became his friends, and Ming Huang his patron. He obtained a post at Court somewhat similar to that of Master of Ceremonies in our own Court. Yet the poet had few sympathies outside the artistic life. He was so unworldly and so little of a courtier that when the new Emperor Su Tsung returned in triumph to the capital and appointed him Imperial Censor, he fulfilled his new duties by telling his majesty the whole unpalatable truth in a manner strangely free from ornamental apology, and was promptly rewarded with the exile of a provincial governorship. But Tu Fu was no man of affairs, and knew it. On the day of his public installation he took off his insignia of office before the astonished notables, and, laying them one by one on the table, made them a profound reverence, and quietly withdrew.

Like his friend Li Po, he became a homeless wanderer, but, unlike him, he concealed his brilliant name, obtaining food and patronage for his delightful nameless self alone, and not for his reputation’s sake. Finally, he was discovered by the military governor of the province of Ssuch`uan, who applied on his behalf for the post of Restorer of Ancient Monuments in the district, the one congenial appointment of his life. For six years he kept his post; then trouble in the shape of rebel hordes burst once more upon the province, and again he became an exile. The last act of this eventful life took place in his native district: some local mandarin gave a great banquet in honour of the distinguished poet, whom he had rescued, half drowned and famishing, from the ruined shrine by the shore where the waters had cast him up. The wine-cup brimmed again and again, food was piled up in front of the honoured guest, and the attendant who waited was Death. The end was swift, sudden, and pitiful. The guest died from the banquet of his rescuer.

Of all poets Tu Fu is the first in craftsmanship. It is interesting to add that he was a painter as well, and the friend of painters, notably the soldier-artist, Kiang-Tu, to whom he dedicates a poem. Possibly it is to this faculty that he owes his superb technique. He seeks after simplicity and its effects as a diver seeks for sunken gold. In his poem called “The Little Rain”, which I have (perhaps somewhat rashly) attempted, there is all the graciousness of fine rain falling upon sullen furrows, which charms the world into spring. “The Recruiting Sergeant” has the touch of grim desolation, which belongs inevitably to a country plundered of its men and swept with the ruinous winds of rebellion.

Li Po gives us Watteau-like pictures of life in Ch`ang-an before the flight of the Emperor. The younger poet paints, with the brush of Verestchagin, the realism and horrors of civil war. In most of Tu Fu’s work there is an underlying sadness which appears continually, sometimes in the vein that runs throughout the poem, sometimes at the conclusion, and often at the summing up of all things. Other poets have it, some more, some less, with the exception of those who belong to the purely Taoist school. The reason is that the Chinese poet is haunted. He is haunted by the vast shadow of a past without historians — a past that is legendary, unmapped and unbounded, and yields, therefore, Golcondas and golden lands innumerable to its bold adventurers. He is haunted from out the crumbled palaces of vanished kings, where “in the form of blue flames one sees spirits moving through each dark recess.” He is haunted by the traditional voices of the old masters of his craft, and lastly, more than all, by the dead women and men of his race, the ancestors that count in the making of his composite soul and have their silent say in every action, thought, and impulse of his life.

The Little Rain

Oh! she is good, the little rain! and well she knows our need Who cometh in the time of spring to aid the sun-drawn seed; She wanders with a friendly wind through silent nights unseen, The furrows feel her happy tears, and lo! the land is green.

Last night cloud-shadows gloomed the path that winds to my abode, And the torches of the river-boats like angry meteors glowed. To-day fresh colours break the soil, and butterflies take wing Down broidered lawns all bright with pearls in the garden of the King.

A Night of Song

The wind scarce flutters through the leaves, The young moon hath already gone,
And kind and cool the dews descend: The lute-strings wake for night alone.

In shadow lapse the twinkling streams, The lilied marge their waves caress;
And the sheer constellations sway
O’er soundless gulfs of nothingness.

What cadence charms the poet’s ear!
What fire-fly fancies round him swarm! He dreads the lantern lights may fail
Long ere his thoughts have taken form.

Now gallants tap their two-edged swords, And pride and passion swell amain;
Like red stars flashing through the night The circling wine-cups brim again.

There steals the old sad air of Ou — Each calls his latest song to mind;
Then white sails taper down the stream, While lingering thoughts still look behind.

The Recruiting Sergeant

At sunset in the village of Che-Kao*
I sought for shelter; on my heels there trod A grim recruiting sergeant, of the kind
That seize their prey by night. A poor old man Saw — scaled the wall, and vanished. Through the gate An old bent woman hobbled, and she marched A pace before him. Loudly in his wrath
The grim recruiter stormed; and bitterly She answered: “Listen to the voice of her Who drags before you. Once I had three sons — Three in the Emperor’s camp. A letter came From one, and — there was one; the others fell In the same battle — he alone was left, Scarce able from the iron grasp of Death To tear his miserable life.
My two dead boys! for ever and for aye Death holds them. In our wretched hut remains The last of all the men — a little child, Still at his mother’s breast. She cannot flee, Since her few tatters scarce suffice to clothe Her shrunken limbs.
My years are nearly done, My strength is well-nigh spent; yet I will go Readily to the camping-ground. Perchance I may be useful for some humble task,
To cook the rice or stir the morning meal.”

. . . . .

Night slipped away. The clamour and the cries Died down; but there was weeping and the sound Of stifled moans around me.
At the break
Of dawn I hurried on my road, and left None but an old and broken man behind.

* All words ending in `ao’ are pronounced `ow’, as in English `vow’, `allow’, etc.

Chants of Autumn

Shorn by the frost with crystal blade, The dry leaves, scattered, fall at last; Among the valleys of Wu Chan
Cold winds of death go wailing past. Tumultuous waves of the great river rise And seem to storm the skies,
While snow-bright peak and prairie mist combine, And greyness softens the harsh mountain line.

Chrysanthemums unfurl to-day,
To-morrow the last flowers are blown. I am the barque that chains delay:
My homeward thoughts must sail alone. From house to house warm winter robes are spread, And through the pine-woods red
Floats up the sound of the washerman’s bat who plies His hurried task ere the brief noon wanes and dies.

Li Po

A.D. 702-762

The most famous name in Chinese literature. Born in the province of Ssuch`uan, Li Po obtained his doctor’s degree at the age of twenty, and was already known as a brilliant, inspired poet before Ming Huang became his patron in the capital. A suite of rooms overlooking the beautiful gardens of T`eng-hsiang T`ing, where the Emperor retired after the routine of the day, was assigned to him. Here the poet improvised, whilst Ming Huang himself wrote down the verses that he afterwards set to music, and accompanied while the poet sang. But Li Po, with all his enthusiasm for his patron and the delights of the garden-life, was little of a courtier. When Ming Huang bade the masterful eunuch Kao Li-shih unlace the poet’s boots, he gave him a relentless enemy whose malice pursued him, until at length he was glad to beg leave to retire from the court, where he was never at ease and to which he never returned. Troubadour-like, he wandered through the provinces, the guest of mandarin and local governor, the star of the drinking-taverns, the delight and embarrassment of all his hosts. At length a friend of former days, to whom he had attached himself, unhappily involved him in the famous rebellion of An Lu-shan. The poet was seized and thrown into prison. Yet prison doors were ill warders of his fame, and letters of recall followed closely upon pardon; but death overtook the exile before he could reach the capital, and at the age of sixty his wanderings came to an end.

Li Po was a poet with a sword by his side. He would have ruffled bravely with our Elizabethans, and for a Chinese is strangely warlike in sentiment. How he loves the bravo of Chao with his sabre from the Chinese Sheffield of Wu, “with the surface smooth as ice and dazzling as snow, with his saddle broidered with silver upon his white steed; who when he passes, swift as the wind, may be said to resemble a shooting star!” He compares the frontiersman, who has never so much as opened a book in all his life, yet knows how to follow in the chase, and is skilful, strong, and hardy, with the men of his own profession. “From these intrepid wanderers how different our literary men who grow grey over their books behind a curtained window.”

It is harder to write of Li Po than of any other Chinese poet. Po Chu-i has his own distinctive feeling for romance, Tu Fu his minute literary craftsmanship, Ssu-K`ung T`u the delicate aroma of suggestive mysticism; but Li Po is many-sided, and has perhaps more of the world-spirit than all of them. We can imagine this bold, careless, impulsive artist, with his moments of great exaltation and alternate depression, a kind of Chinese Paul Verlaine, with his sensitive mind of a child, always recording impressions as they come. T`ai Chen the beautiful and the grim frontiersman are alike faithfully portrayed. He lives for the moment, and the moment is often wine-flushed like the rosy glow of dawn, or grey and wan as the twilight of a hopeless day.

To the City of Nan-king

Thou that hast seen six kingdoms pass away, Accept my song and these three cups I drain! There may be fairer gardens light the plain; Thine are the dim blue hills more fair than they.

Here Kings of Wu were crowned and overthrown, Where peaceful grass along the ruin wins; Here — was it yesterday? — the royal Tsins Called down the dreams of sunset into stone.

One end awaits for all that mortal be; Pride and despair shall find a common grave: The Yang-tse-kiang renders wave and wave To mingle with the abysms of the sea.

Memories with the Dusk Return

The yellow dusk winds round the city wall; The crows are drawn to nest,
Silently down the west
They hasten home, and from the branches call. A woman sits and weaves with fingers deft Her story of the flower-lit stream,
Threading the jasper gauze in dream, Till like faint smoke it dies; and she, bereft, Recalls the parting words that died
Under the casement some far eventide, And stays the disappointed loom,
While from the little lonely room Into the lonely night she peers,
And, like the rain, unheeded fall her tears.

An Emperor’s Love

In all the clouds he sees her light robes trail, And roses seem beholden to her face;
O’er scented balustrade the scented gale Blows warm from Spring, and dew-drops form apace. Her outline on the mountain he can trace, Now leans she from the tower in moonlight pale.

A flower-girt branch grows sweeter from the dew. A spirit of snow and rain unheeded calls. Who wakes to memory in these palace walls? Fei-yen!* — but in the robes an Empress knew.

The most renowned of blossoms, most divine Of those whose conquering glances overthrow Cities and kingdoms, for his sake combine And win the ready smiles that ever flow
From royal lips. What matter if the snow Blot out the garden? She shall still recline Upon the scented balustrade and glow
With spring that thrills her warm blood into wine.

* A delicate compliment to the beautiful T`ai Chen, of which the meaning is that, as the Emperor Yang-ti of the Sui dynasty elevated his mistress Fei-yen to share with him the throne, so shall T`ai Chen become the Empress of Ming Huang. —

On the Banks of Jo-yeh

They gather lilies down the stream,
A net of willows drooping low
Hides boat from boat; and to and fro Sweet whispered confidences seem
‘Mid laughing trills to flow.

In the green deeps a shaft of gold
Limns their elaborate attire;
Through silken sleeves the winds aspire, Embalmed, to stray, and, growing bold,
Swell them to their desire.

But who are these, the cavaliers
That gleam along the river-side?
By three, by five they prance with pride Beyond the willow-line that sheers
Over the trellised tide.

A charger neighs; one turns to start, Crushing the kingcups as he flies,
And one pale maiden vainly tries
To hush the tumult in her heart
And veil the secret of her eyes.

Thoughts in a Tranquil Night

Athwart the bed
I watch the moonbeams cast a trail So bright, so cold, so frail,
That for a space it gleams
Like hoar-frost on the margin of my dreams. I raise my head, —
The splendid moon I see:
Then droop my head,
And sink to dreams of thee —
My Fatherland, of thee!

The Guild of Good-fellowship

The universe is but a tenement
Of all things visible. Darkness and day The passing guests of Time. Life slips away, A dream of little joy and mean content.

Ah! wise the old philosophers who sought To lengthen their long sunsets among flowers, By stealing the young night’s unsullied hours And the dim moments with sweet burdens fraught.

And now Spring beckons me with verdant hand, And Nature’s wealth of eloquence doth win Forth to the fragrant-bowered nectarine, Where my dear friends abide, a careless band.

There meet my gentle, matchless brothers, there I come, the obscure poet, all unfit
To wear the radiant jewellery of wit, And in their golden presence cloud the air.

And while the thrill of meeting lingers, soon As the first courtly words, the feast is spread, While, couched on flowers ‘mid wine-cups flashing red, We drink deep draughts unto The Lady Moon.

Then as without the touch of verse divine There is no outlet for the pent-up soul, ‘Twas ruled that he who quaffed no fancy’s bowl Should drain the “Golden Valley”* cups of wine.

* i.e. drink three cups of wine, the “Golden Valley” being the name of a garden, the owner of which enforced this penalty among his boon companions (`Gems of Chinese Literature’, p. 113). —

Under the Moon

Under the crescent moon’s faint glow
The washerman’s bat resounds afar,
And the autumn breeze sighs tenderly. But my heart has gone to the Tartar war, To bleak Kansuh and the steppes of snow, Calling my husband back to me.


We cannot keep the gold of yesterday; To-day’s dun clouds we cannot roll away. Now the long, wailing flight of geese brings autumn in its train, So to the view-tower cup in hand to fill and drink again,

And dream of the greatest singers of the past, Their fadeless lines of fire and beauty cast. I too have felt the wild-bird thrill of song behind the bars, But these have brushed the world aside and walked amid the stars.

In vain we cleave the torrent’s thread with steel, In vain we drink to drown the grief we feel; When man’s desire with fate doth war this, this avails alone — To hoist the sail and let the gale and the waters bear us on.

Wang Ch`ang-ling

Circa A.D. 750

This poet came from the district of Chiang-ning to the capital, where he obtained his doctor’s degree and distinguished himself as a man of letters. For some time he filled a minor post, but was eventually disgraced and exiled to the province of Hunan. When the rebellion of An Lu-shan broke out, he returned to his native place, where he was cruelly murdered by the censor Lu Ch`in-hsiao. (See Hervey Saint-Denys, `Poe/sies des Thang’, p. 224; Giles, `Biog. Dict.’ p. 8087.)

The Song of the Nenuphars

Leaves of the Nenuphars and silken skirts the same pale green, On flower and laughing face alike the same rose-tints are seen; Like some blurred tapestry they blend within the lake displayed: You cannot part the leaves from silk, the lily from the maid. Only when sudden voices swell
Do maidens of their presence tell.

Here long ago the girls of Sou, the darlings of the King, Dabbled their shining skirts with dew from the gracious blooms of Spring. When to the lake’s sun-dimpled marge the bright procession wends, The languid lilies raise their heads as though to greet their friends; When down the river-banks they roam,
The white moon-lady leads them home.

Tears in the Spring

Clad in blue silk and bright embroidery At the first call of Spring the fair young bride, On whom as yet Sorrow has laid no scar,
Climbs the Kingfisher’s Tower. Suddenly She sees the bloom of willows far and wide, And grieves for him she lent to fame and war.

Chang Chih-ho

Circa A.D. 750

A Taoist philosopher who lived in the time of the Emperor Su Tsung, and held office under him. For some offence he was exiled, and the royal pardon found him far too occupied to dream of return.

Like so many of the same philosophy, he became a lonely wanderer, calling himself the “Old Fisherman of the Mists and Waters”. Professor Giles (`Chinese Literature’, p. 191) adds the curious statement that “he spent his time in angling, but used no bait, his object not being to catch fish.”

A World Apart

The Lady Moon is my lover,
My friends are the oceans four,
The heavens have roofed me over,
And the dawn is my golden door
I would liefer follow the condor
Or the seagull, soaring from ken,
Than bury my godhead yonder
In the dust of the whirl of men.

Chang Jo-hu

Circa A.D. 800

When heaven reveals her primal stainless blue, Alone within the firmament there burns
The tiny torch of dusk. What startled eyes Uplifted from the restless stream first met The full round glory of the moon! Yon orb That pales upon the flood of broad Kiang, When did she first through twilight mists unveil Her wonders to the world?
Men come and go;
New generations hunger at the heels Of those that yield possession. Still the moon Fulfils her phases. While the tides of time Eat out the rocks of empire, and the stars Of human destiny adown the void
Go glittering to their doom, she changeless sweeps Through all her times and destinies. Alas! The little lives that swarmed beneath the moon, I cannot count them. This alone I know — That, wave on wave, the Kiang seeks the sea, And not a wave returns.
One small white cloud
Threading the vasty vault of heaven recalls My heart unto her loneliness. I sail
Between two banks, where heavy boughs enlace, Whose verdurous luxuriance wakes once more My many griefs. None know me as I am,
Steering to strange adventure. None may tell If, steeped in the same moonlight, lies afar Some dim pavilion where my lady dreams
Of me. Ah, happy moon! low lingering moon! That with soft touch now brightens into jade Lintel and door, and when she lifts the blind Floats through the darkened chamber of her sleep; While leagues away my love-winged messages Go flocking home; and though they mingle not, Our thoughts seek one another. In the lilt Of winds I hear her whisper: “Oh that I
Might melt into the moonbeams, and with them Leap through the void, and shed myself with them Upon my lover.” Slow the night creeps on. Sleep harbours in the little room. She dreams — Dreams of a fall o’ flowers. Alas! young Spring Lies on the threshold of maternity,
And still he comes not. Still the flowing stream Sweeps on, but the swift torrents of green hours Are licked into the brazen skies between Their widening banks. The great deliberate moon Now leans toward the last resort of night, Gloom of the western waves. She dips her rim, She sinks, she founders in the mist; and still The stream flows on, and to the insatiate sea Hurries her white-wave flocks innumerable In never-ending tale. On such a night
How many tireless travellers may attain The happy goal of their desire! So dreams My lady till the moon goes down, and lo! A rush of troubled waters floods her soul, While black forebodings rise from deeps unknown And the cold trail of fear creeps round her heart.

T`ung Han-ching

Circa A.D. 800

The Celestial Weaver

A thing of stone beside Lake Kouen-ming Has for a thousand autumns borne the name Of the Celestial Weaver. Like that star
She shines above the waters, wondering At her pale loveliness. Unnumbered waves