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Manoa 15.1 (2003) 20-26
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On Encountering Sorrow
The speaker in this poem was Qu Yuan (343-278 B.C.E.), the first identifiable poet in China. A nobleman of the kingdom of Chu in the lake country south of the Yangzi River, Qu was slandered by fellow courtiers and banished to the southern hinterlands by the inconstant king, whom he calls the Fair One in this poem. The king of Huai was the father of the Fair One. Qu later drowned himself in the River Milo.—M.Y.
The South, you know
Is the Land of Promise...
Loving priestesses believed in this deeply
Then China had not yet taken shape
The chariot of the Sun God only reached River Huai,
at most the Yangzi
Until Zhuanxu—my ancestor
The blood of the sage thawed, and flowed south
His blood reached the city Cheng
Cheng was just a land of swamps then
Invisible deities and spirits
Were everywhere in the air
The land of Dream Clouds—yes, the entire region
Was filled with orchids!
A few centuries passed by
The mists had dispersed
The rainy season ended [End Page 20]
Chu became the South to be proud of
Once it even vied for the rule of the Central Plains
We worshipped the aesthetics of black lined in gold
Virtues of heady fragrances
A religion of tender love
Graceful, reserved, fancy-prone...
A more widely told story
Speaks of the secret marriage vow, between humans and gods
And spirits of fishhawks, daylilies, and
In the Month of Yin, the Year of Yin
My birth deserves mention
Especially because it preordained all
And witnessed all
The hour when Shen Ti shone in the northeast
The last light snow of the first month
Had just cleansed the early-blooming selinea
Like so many mothers of Chu—
A mysterious, high-born
But obscure goddess
Placed me amidst mushrooms and cassias
Rinsed my soul
With the melting snow gathered from orchid buds
Thus setting in motion my never-cooling blood
At the age of twenty
I had a name the whole South adored
But how could I have foreseen
The misfortune of possessing a mind of clarity?
Low, flat lakeshores
Are not fit for farsighted men
The Kingdom of Chu, with the inevitable
Coarseness of the first mold
Repeatedly wounds a delicate soul
Driving me to my wits' end
When standards of judgment have yet to be established
How can things of supreme beauty come into being?
But like the angelica in my hand
I too face the end of beauty and sweetness
In the vicissitudes of time [End Page 21]
I have discovered
Death is the only unchangeable truth
Besides, without the ability to discriminate
Goodness turns into my suffering in the end—
How can you give a phoenix a mere foot of land?
How can you give the North Star only one night?
How could I not know my impatience
And cold eyes, those cold cold eyes?
They used their eloquence to slander me
Laying nails and hooks around the palace
To catch me by the train of my robe
Turning me into a silkworm spinning deliriously
But I had no time to grope around in their meandering alleys
When a newly written poem
Lifted me up to the sky of stars
But an unparalleled concern
Pulled me back down to my care
Yes, clattering horse hooves on the borders
Have shaken the pillars in the ancestral temple
A metallic taste has interrupted
The stay of the fragrant castor plant
The mighty Kingdom of Qin
Has eclipsed the fading twilight in the western sky
Sorry lies fabricated in the land of Shu
Led to the downfall of the noble King Huai
Fair One, Fair One, where should I begin?
Always he is on my mind
Like a pearl in the oyster...
That man, in the seat of honor
Showed me an appreciation beyond my belief
As if keeping a promise from the previous life