More Translations from the Chinese, by Arthur Waley, , at sacred-texts.com
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During the Chēng-Yüan 1 period of the T‘ang dynasty there lived a man called Chang. 2 His nature was gentle and refined, and his person of great beauty. But his deeper feelings were resolutely held in restraint, and he would indulge in no license. Sometimes his friends took him to a party and he would try to join their frolics; but when the rest were shouting and scuffling their hardest, Chang only pretended to take his share. For he could never overcome his shyness. So it came about that though already twenty-three, he had not yet enjoyed a woman's beauty. To those who questioned him he answered, "It is not such as Master Tēng-t’u 3 who are true lovers of beauty; for they are merely profligates. I consider myself a lover of beauty, who happens never to have met with it. And I am of this opinion because I know that, in other things, whatever is beautiful casts its spell upon me; so that I cannot be devoid of feeling." His questioners only laughed.
About this time Chang went to Puchow. Some two miles east of the town there is a temple called the P‘-u-chiu-ssŭ, and here he took up his lodging. Now it happened that at this time the widow of a certain Ts‘ui was returning to, Ch‘ang-an. 4 She passed through Puchow on her way and stayed at the same temple.
This lady was born of the Chēng family and Chang's mother was also a Chēng. He unravelled their relationship and found that they were second-cousins.
This year General Hun-Chang 5 died at Puchow. There was a certain Colonel Ting Wēn-ya who ill-treated his troops. The soldiers accordingly made Hun Chan's funeral the occasion of a mutiny, and began to plunder the town. The Ts‘ui family had brought with them much valuable property and many slaves. Subjected to this sudden danger when far from home, they had no one from whom they could seek protection.
Now it happened that Chang had been friendly with the political party to which the commander at Puchow belonged. At his request a guard was sent to the temple and no disorder took place there. A few days afterwards the Civil Commissioner Tu Chio was ordered by the Emperor to take over the command of the troops. The mutineers then laid down their arms.
The widow Chēng was very sensible of the service which Chang had rendered. She therefore provided dainties and invited him to a banquet in the middle hall. At table she turned to him and said, "I, your cousin, a lonely and widowed relict, had young ones in my care. If we had fallen into the hands of the soldiery, I could not have helped them. Therefore the lives of my little boy and young daughter were
saved by your protection, and they owe you eternal gratitude. I will now cause them to kneel before you, their merciful cousin, that they may thank you for your favours." First she sent for her son, Huan-lang, who was about ten years old, a handsome and gentle child. Then she called to her daughter, Ying-ying: "Come and bow to your cousin. Your cousin saved your life." For a long while she would not come, saying that she was not well. The widow grew angry and cried: "Your cousin saved your life. But for his help, you would now be a prisoner. How can you treat him so rudely?"
At last she came in, dressed in everyday clothes, with a look of deep unhappiness in her face. She had not put on any ornaments. Her hair hung down in coils, the black of her two eyebrows joined, her cheeks were not rouged. But her features were of exquisite beauty and shone with an almost dazzling lustre.
Chang bowed to her, amazed. She sat down by her mother's side and looked all the time towards her, turning from him with a fixed stare of aversion, as though she could not endure his presence.
He asked how old she was. The widow answered, "She was born in the year of the present Emperor's reign that was a year of the Rat, and now it is the year of the Dragon in the period Chēng-yüan. 6 So she must be seventeen years old."
Chang tried to engage her in conversation, but she would
not answer, and soon the dinner was over. He was passionately in love with her and wanted to tell her so, but could find no way.
Ying-ying had a maid-servant called Hung-niang, whom Chang sometimes met and greeted. Once he stopped her and was beginning to tell her of his love for her mistress; but she was frightened and ran away. Then Chang was sorry he had not kept silence.
Next day he met Hung-niang again, but was ashamed and did not say what was in his mind. But this time the maid herself broached the subject and said to Chang, "Master, I dare not tell her what you told me, or even hint at it. But since your mother was a kinswoman of the Ts‘uis, why do you not seek my mistress's hand on that plea?"
Chang said, "Since I was a child in arms, my nature has been averse to intimacy. Sometimes I have idled with wearers of silk and gauze, but my fancy was never once detained. I little thought that in the end I should be entrapped.
"Lately at the banquet I could scarcely contain myself; and since then, when I walk, I forget where I am going and when I eat, I forget to finish my meal, and do not know how to endure the hours from dawn to dusk.
"If we were to get married through a matchmaker and perform the ceremonies of Sending Presents and Asking Names, it would take many months, and by that time you would have to look for me "in the dried-fish shop." What is the use of giving me such advice as that?"
The maid replied, "My mistress clings steadfastly to her chastity, and even an equal could not trip her with lewd talk. Much less may she be won through the stratagems of a maidservant. But she is skilled in composition, and often when she has made a poem or essay, she is restless and dissatisfied for a long while after. You must try to provoke her by a love-poem. There is no other way."
Chang was delighted and at once composed two Spring Poems to send her. Hung-niang took them away and came back the same evening with a coloured tablet, which she gave to Chang, saying, "This is from my mistress." It bore the title "The Bright Moon of the Fifteenth Night." The words ran:
To wait for the moon I am sitting in the western parlour,
To greet the wind, I have left the door ajar.
When a flower's shadow stirred and brushed the wall,
For a moment I thought it the shadow of a lover coming.
Chang could not doubt her meaning. That night was the fourth after the first decade of the second month. Beside the eastern wall of Ts‘ui's apartments there grew an apricot-tree; by climbing it one could cross the wall. On the next night (which was the night of the full moon) Chang used the tree as a ladder and crossed the wall. He went straight to the western parlour and found the door ajar. Hung-niang lay asleep on the bed. He woke her, and she cried in a voice of astonishment, "Master Chang, what are you doing here?"
[paragraph continues] Chang answered, half-truly: "Ts‘ui's letter invited me. Tell her I have come." Hung-niang soon returned, whispering, "She is coming, she is coming." Chang was both delighted and surprised, thinking that his salvation was indeed at hand.
At last Ts‘ui entered.
Her dress was sober and correct, and her face was stern. She at once began to reprimand Chang, saying, "I am grateful for the service which you rendered to my family. You gave support to my dear mother when she was at a loss how to save her little boy and young daughter. How came you to send me a wicked message by the hand of a low maidservant? In protecting me from the license of others, you acted nobly. But now that you wish to make me a partner to your own licentious desires, you are asking me to accept one wrong in exchange for another.
"How was I to repel this advance? I would gladly have hidden your letter, but it would have been immoral to harbour a record of illicit proposals. Had I shown it to my mother, I should ill have requited the debt we owe you. Were I to entrust a message of refusal to a servant or concubine, I feared it might not be truly delivered. I thought of writing a letter to tell you what I felt; but I was afraid I might not be able to make you understand. So I sent those trivial verses, that I might be sure of your coming. I have no cause to be ashamed of an irregularity which had no other object but the preservation of my chastity."
With these words she vanished. Chang remained for a
long while petrified with astonishment. At last he climbed back over the wall and went home in despair.
Several nights after this he was lying asleep near the verandah, when some one suddenly woke him. He rose with a startled sigh and found that Hung-niang was there, with bed-clothes under her arm and a pillow in her hand. She shook Chang, saying, "She is coming, she is coming. Why are you asleep?" Then she arranged the bedclothes and pillow and went away.
Chang sat up and rubbed his eyes. For a long while he thought he must be dreaming, but he assumed a respectful attitude and waited.
Suddenly Hung-niang came back, bringing her mistress with her. Ts‘ui, this time, was languid and flushed, yielding and wanton in her air, as though her strength could scarcely support her limbs. Her former severity had utterly disappeared.
That night was the eighth of the second decade. The crystal beams of the sinking moon twinkled secretly across their bed. Chang, in a strange exaltation, half-believed that a fairy had come to him, and not a child of mortal men.
At last the temple bell sounded, dawn glimmered in the sky and Hung-niang came back to fetch her mistress away. Ts‘ui turned on her side with a pretty cry, and followed her maid to the door.
The whole night she had not spoken a word.
Chang rose when it was half-dark, still thinking that perhaps
it had been a dream. But when it grew light, he saw her powder on his arm and smelt her perfume in his clothes. A tear she had shed still glittered on the mattress.
For more than ten days afterwards he did not see her again. During this time he began to make a poem called "Meeting a Fairy," in thirty couplets. It was not yet finished, when he chanced to meet Hung-niang in the road. He asked her to take the poem to Ts‘ui.
After this Ts‘ui let him come to her, and for a month or more he crept out at dawn and in at dusk, the two of them living together in that western parlour of which I spoke before.
Chang often asked her what her mother thought of him. T‘sui said, "I know she would not oppose my will. So why should we not get married at once?"
Soon afterwards, Chang had to go to the capital. Before starting, he tenderly informed her of his departure. She did not reproach him, but her face showed pitiable distress. On the night before he started, he was not able to see her.
After spending a few months in the west, Chang returned to Puchow and again lodged for several months in the same building as the Ts‘uis. He made many attempts to see Ying-ying alone, but she would not let him do so. Remembering that she was fond of calligraphy and verse, he frequently sent her his own compositions, but she scarcely glanced at them.
It was characteristic of her that when any situation was at its acutest point, she appeared quite unconscious of it. She talked glibly, but would seldom answer a question. She expected absolute devotion, but herself gave no encouragement.
Sometimes when she was in the depth of despair, she would affect all the while to be quite indifferent. It was rarely possible to know from her face whether she was pleased or sorry.
One night Chang came upon her unawares when she was playing on the harp, with a touch full of passion. But when she saw him coming, she stopped playing. This incident increased his infatuation.
Soon afterwards, it became time for him to compete in the Literary Examinations, and he was obliged once more to set out for the western capital.
The evening before his departure, he sat in deep despondency by Ts‘ui's side, but did not try again to tell her of his love. Nor had he told her that he was going away, but she seemed to have guessed it, and with submissive face and gentle voice, she said to him softly: "Those whom a man leads astray, he will in the end abandon. It must be so, and I will not reproach you. You deigned to corrupt me and now you deign to leave me. That is all. And your vows of "faithfulness till death"—they too are cancelled. There is no need for you to grieve at this parting, but since I see you so sad and can give you no other comfort—you
once praised my harp-playing; but I was bashful and would not play to you. Now I am bolder, and if you choose, I will play you a tune."
She took her harp and began the prelude to "Rainbow Skirts and Feather Jackets." 7 But after a few bars the tune broke off into a wild and passionate dirge.
All who were present caught their breath; but in a moment she stopped playing, threw down her harp and, weeping bitterly, ran to her mother's room.
She did not come back.
Next morning Chang left. The following year he failed in his examinations and could not leave the capital. So, to unburden his heart, he wrote a letter to Ts‘ui. She answered him somewhat in this fashion: "I have read your letter and cherish it dearly. It has filled my heart half with sorrow, half with joy. You sent with it a box of garlands and five sticks of paste, that I may decorate my head and colour my lips.
"I thank you for your presents; but there is no one now to care how I look. Seeing these things only makes me think of you and grieve the more.
"You say that you are prospering in your career at the capital, and I am comforted by that news. But it makes me fear you will never come back again to one who is so distant and humble. But that is settled forever, and it is no use talking of it.
"Since last autumn I have lived in a dazed stupor. Amid the clamour of the daytime, I have sometimes forced myself to laugh and talk; but alone at night I have done nothing but weep. Or, if I have fallen asleep my dreams have always been full of the sorrows of parting. Often I dreamt that you came to me as you used to do, but always before the moment of our joy your phantom vanished from my side. Yet, though we are still bedfellows in my dreams, when I wake and think of it the time when we were together seems very far off. For since we parted, the old year has slipped away and a new year has begun…
"Ch‘ang-an is a city of pleasure, where there are many snares to catch a young man's heart. How can I hope that you will not forget one so sequestered and insignificant as I? And indeed, if you were to be faithful, so worthless a creature, could never requite you. But our vows of unending love—those I at least can fulfil.
Because you are my cousin, I met you at the feast. Lured by a maid-servant, I visited you in private. A girl's heart is not in her own keeping. You "tempted me by your ballads" 8 and I could not bring myself to "throw the shuttle." 9
Then came the sharing of pillow and mat, the time of perfect loyalty and deepest tenderness. And I, being young and foolish, thought it would never end.
Now, having "seen my Prince," 10 I cannot love again; nor,
branded by the shame of self-surrender, am I fit to perform "the service of towel and comb"; 11 and of the bitterness of the long celibacy which awaits me, what need is there to speak?
"The good man uses his heart; and if by chance his gaze has fallen on the humble and insignificant, till the day of his death, he continues the affections of his life. The cynic cares nothing for people's feelings. He will discard the small to follow the great, look upon a former mistress merely as an accomplice in sin, and hold that the most solemn vows are made only to be broken. He will reverse all natural laws—as though Nature should suddenly let bone dissolve, while cinnabar resisted the fire. The dew that the wind has shaken from the tree still looks for kindness from the dust; and such, too, is the sum of my hopes and fears.
"As I write, I am shaken by sobs and cannot tell you all that is in my heart. My darling, I am sending you a jade ring that I used to play with when I was a child. I want you to wear it at your girdle, that you may become firm and flawless as this jade, and, in your affections, unbroken as the circuit of this ring.
"And with it I am sending a skein of thread and a tea-trough of flecked bamboo. There is no value in these few things. I send them only to remind you to keep your heart pure as jade and your affection unending as this round ring. The bamboo is mottled as if with tears, and the thread is
tangled as the thoughts of those who are in sorrow. By these tokens I seek no more than that, knowing the truth, you may think kindly of me for ever.
"Our hearts are very near, but our bodies are far apart. There is no time fixed for our meeting; yet a secret longing can unite souls that are separated by a thousand miles.
"Protect yourself against the cold spring wind, eat well—look after yourself in all ways and do not worry too much about your worthless handmaid,
Chang showed this letter to his friends and so the story became known to many who lived at that time. All who heard it were deeply moved; but Chang, to their disappointment, declared that he meant to break with Ts‘ui. Yüan Chēn, of Honan, who knew Chang well, asked him why he had made this decision.
"I have observed that in Nature whatever has perfect beauty is either itself liable to sudden transformations or else is the cause of them in others. If Ts‘ui were to marry a rich gentleman and become his pet, she would forever be changing, as the clouds change to rain, or as the scaly dragon turns into the horned dragon. I, for one, could never keep pace with her transformations.
"Of old, Hsin of the Yin dynasty and Yu of the Chou dynasty ruled over kingdoms of many thousand chariots,
and their strength was very great. Yet a single woman brought them to ruin, dissipating their hosts and leading these monarchs to the assassin's knife. So that to this day they are a laughing-stock to all the world. I know that my constancy could not withstand such spells, and that is why I have curbed my passion."
At these words all who were present sighed deeply.
A few years afterwards Ts‘ui married some one else and Chang also found a wife. Happening once to pass the house where Ts‘ui was living, he called on her husband and asked to see her, saying he was her cousin. The husband sent for her, but she would not come. Chang's vexation showed itself in his face. Some one told Ts‘ui of this and she secretly wrote the poem:
Since I have grown so lean, my face has lost its beauty.
I have tossed and turned so many times that I am too tired to leave my bed.
It is not that I mind the others seeing
How ugly I have grown;
It is you who have caused me to lose my beauty,
Yet it is you I am ashamed should see me!
Chang went away without meeting her, and a few days afterwards, when he was leaving the town, wrote a poem of final farewell, which said:
You cannot say that you are abandoned and deserted;
For you have found some one to love you.
Why do you not convert your broodings over the past
Into kindness to your present husband?
After that they never heard of one another again. Many of Chang's contemporaries praised the skill with which he extricated himself from this entanglement.
103:1 A. D. 785-805.
103:2 I.e., Yüan Chēn himself.
103:3 Type of the indiscriminate lover, fourth century B. C.
103:4 The capital of China at that time; now called Hsi-an-fu.
104:5 B. A. D. 735; d. 799. Famous for his campaigns against the Tibetans and Uighurs.
105:6 I.e., A. D. 800.
112:7 A gay, court tune of the eighth century.
113:8 As Ssŭ-ma tempted Cho Wēn-chün, second century B. C.
113:9 As the neighbour's daughter did to Hsieh Kun (A. D. fourth century), in order to repel his advances.
113:10 Odes I. 1., X. 2.
114:11 = become a bride.