China's Emperor, craving beauty that might shake an empire,
Was on the throne for many years, searching, never finding,
Till a little child of the Yang clan, hardly even grown,
Bred in an inner chamber, with no one knowing her,
After eating lunch, I feel so sleepy.
Waking later, I sip two bowls of tea,
then notice shadows aslant, the sun
already low in the southwest again.
In the tenth year of Yuanhe I was banished and demoted to be assistant official in Jiujiang. In the summer of the next year I was seeing a friend leave Penpu and heard in the midnight from a neighbouring boat a guitar played in the manner of the capital. Upon inquiry, I found that the player had formerly been a dancing-girl there and in her maturity had been married to a merchant. I invited her to my boat to have her play for us. She told me her story, heyday and then unhappiness. Since my departure from the capital I had not felt sad; but that night, after I left her, I began to realize my banishment. And I wrote this long poem -- six hundred and twelve characters.
I was bidding a guest farewell, at night on the Xunyang River,
Where maple-leaves and full-grown rushes rustled in the autumn.
Boundless grasses over the plain
Come and go with every season;
Wildfire never quite consumes them --
They are tall once more in the spring wind.
We share all these disappointments of failing
autumn a thousand miles apart. This is where
autumn wind easily plunders courtyard trees,
but the sorrows of distance never scatter away.
For ten years I never left my books;
I went up ... and won unmerited praise.
My high place I do not much prize;
The joy of my parents will first make me proud.
In waters still as a burnished mirror's face,
In the depths of Wei, carp and grayling swim.
Idly I come with my bamboo fishing-rod
And hang my hook by the banks of Wei stream.
From my high castle I look at the town below
Where the natives of Pa cluster like a swarm of flies.
How can I govern these people and lead them aright?
I cannot even understand what they say.
My new province is a land of bamboo-groves:
Their shoots in spring fill the valleys and hills.
The mountain woodman cuts an armful of them
And brings them down to sell at the early market.
I enter the court
Through the middle gate—
And my sleeve is wet with tears.
The flowers still grow
Flower no flower
mist no mist
arrives at midnight
and leaves at dawn
Time hard year famine life land empty
Brothers live abroad each east west
Fields gardens few fall shield spear after
Bone flesh flow apart road road on
I treasure what front eaves face
and all that north windows frame.
Bamboo winds lavish out windows,
pine colors exquisite beyond eaves,
To light my way upon the stair,
In the wine I drink alone.
Ruined and ill—a man of two score;
Pretty and guileless—a girl of three.
Not a boy—but still better than nothing:
To soothe one’s feeling—from time to time a kiss!
Since the disorders in Henan and the famine in Guannei, my brothers and sisters have been scattered. Looking at the moon, I express my thoughts in this poem, which I send to my eldest brother at Fuliang, my seventh brother at Yuqian, My fifteen brother at Wujiang and my younger brothers and sisters at Fuli and Xiagui.
My heritage lost through disorder and famine,
My brothers and sisters flung eastward and westward,
When I was almost forty
I had a daughter whose name was Golden Bells.
Now it is just a year since she was born;
She is learning to sit and cannot yet talk.
Bai Juyi (pinyin: Bái Juyì; Wade-Giles: Po Chü-i was a Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty. Many of his poems concern his career or observations made as a government official, including as governor of three different provinces. Bai Juyi was also renowned in Japan. Burton Watson says of Bai Juyi: "he worked to develop a style that was simple and easy to understand, and posterity has requited his efforts by making him one of the most well-loved and widely read of all Chinese poets, both in his native land and in the other countries of the East that participate in the appreciation of Chinese culture. He also, thanks to the translations and biographical studies by Arthur Waley, one of the most accessible to English readers". Today the fame of Bai Juyi is worldwide.
Pinyin: Bó Juyì or Bái Juyì
Wade-Giles: Po Chü-i or Pai Chü-i
Zì : Lètian
Hào : Xiangshan Jushì
Shì Wén (hence referred
to as Bái Wéngong )
Bai Juyi often referred to himself in life as Letian, the older English transcription version being Lo-t'ien, meaning something like "happy-go-lucky". Later in life, he referred to himself as the Hermit of Xiangshan.
Bai Juyi lived during the Middle Tang period. This was a period of rebuilding and recovery for the Tang Empire, following the An Shi Rebellion, and following the poetically flourishing era famous for Li Bo (701-762), Wang Wei (701-761), and Du Fu (712-770). Bai Juyi lived through the reign of eight or nine emperors, being born in the Dali regnal era (766-779) of Emperor Daizong of Tang. He had a long and successful career both as a government official and a poet, although these two facets of his career seemed to have come in conflict with each other at certain points. Bai Juyi was also a devoted Chan Buddist.
Birth and childhood
Bai Juyi was born in 772, in Taiyuan, Shanxi, which was then a few miles from location of the modern city. Although he was in Zhengyang, Henan for most of his childhood. His family was poor but scholarly, his father being an Assistant Department Magistrate of the second-class. At the age of ten he was sent away from his family to avoid a war that broke out in the north of China, and went to live with relatives in the area known as Jiangnan, more specifically Xuzhou.
Bai Juyi's official career was initially successful. He passed the jinshi examinations in 800. Bai Juyi may have taken up residence in the western capital city of Chang'an, in 801. Not long after this, Bai Juyi and formed a long friendship with a scholar Yuan Zhen. Bai Juyi's father died in 804, and the young Bai spent the traditional period of retirement mourning the death of his parent, which he did along the Wei River, near to the capital. 806 was the first full year of the reign of Emperor Xianzong of Tang. Also, 806 was the Bai Juyi was appointed to a minor post as a government official, at Zhouzhi, which was not far from the Chang'an (and also in Shaanxi province). He was made a member (scholar) of the Hanlin Academy, in 807, and Reminder of the Left from 807 until 815, except in 811 when his mother died. He spent the traditional three year mourning period again along the Wei River, and returned to court in the winter of 814, where he held the title of Assistant Secretary to the Prince's Tutor. It was not a high ranking position, but nevertheless one which he was soon to lose.
While serving as a minor palace official, 814, Bei Juyi managed to get himself in official trouble. He made a few enemies at court and with certain individuals in other positions. It was partly his written works which lead him into trouble. He wrote two long memorials, translated by Arthur Waley as "On Stopping the War", regarding what he considered to be an overly lengthy campaign against a minor group of Tatars; and he wrote a series of poems, in which he satirized the actions of greedy officials and highlighting the sufferings of the common folk.
At this time, one of the post-An Lushan warlords (jiedushi), Wu Yuanji in Henan, had seized control of Zhangyi Circuit (centered in Zhumadian), an act for which he sought reconciliation with the imperial government, trying to get an imperial pardon as a necessary prerequisite. Despite the intercession of influential friends, Wu was denied, thus officially putting him in the position of rebellion. Still seeking a pardon, Wu turned to assassination, blaming the Prime Minister (another Wu, Wu Yuanheng) and other officials: the imperial court generally began by dawn, requiring the ministers to rise early in order to attend in a timely manner; and, on July 13, 815, before dawn, the Tang Prime Minister Wu Yuanheng was set to go to the palace for a meeting with Emperor Xianzong. As he left his house, arrows were fired at his retinue. His servants all fled, and the assassins seized Wu Yuanheng and his horse, and then decapitated him, taking his head with them. The assassins also attacked another official who favored the campaign against the rebellious warlords, Pei Du, but was unable to kill him. The people at the capital were shocked and there was turmoil, with officials refusing to leave their personal residences until after dawn.
In this context, Bai Juyi overstepped his minor position by memorializing the emperor. As Assistant Secretary to the Prince's Tutor, Bai's memorial was a breach of protocol — he should have waited for those of censorial authority to take the lead before offering his own criticism. This was not the only charge which his opponents used against him. His mother had died, apparently caused by falling into a well while looking at some flowers, and two poems written by Bai Juyi — the titles of which Waley translates as "In Praise of Flowers" and "The New Well" — were used against him as a sign of lack of Filial Piety, one of the Confucian ideals. The result was exile: Bai Juyi was demoted to the rank of Sub-Prefect and banished from the court and the capital city to Jiujiang, then known as Xun Yang on the southern shores of the Yangtze River in northwest Jiangxi Province, China. After three years he was sent as Governor of a remote place in Sichuan. At the time, the main travel route there was up the Yangzi River. This trip allowed Bai Juyi a few days to visit his friend Yuan Zhen, who was also in exile and with whom he explored the rock caves located at Yichang. Bai Juyi was delighted by the flowers and trees for which his new location was noted. In 819, he was recalled back to the capital, ending his exile.
Return to the capital and a new emperor
In 819, Bai Juyi was recalled to the capital and given the position of second-class Assistant Secretary. In 821, China got a new emperor, Muzong. After succeeding to the throne, Muzong spent his time feasting and heavily drinking, and neglecting his duties as emperor. Meanwhile, the temporarily subdued regional military governors (jiedushi) began to challenge the central Tang government, leading to the new de facto independence of three circuits north of the Yellow River, which had been previously subdued by Emperor Xianzong. Furthermore, Muzong's administration was characterized by massive corruption. Again, Bai Juyi wrote a series of memorials in remonstrance.
As Governor of Hangzhou
Again, Bai Juyi was sent away from the court and the capital, but this time to the important position of the thriving town of Hangzhou, which was at the southern terminus of the Grand Canal and located in the scenic neighborhood of West Lake. Fortunately for their friendship, Yuan Zhen at the time was serving an assignment in nearby Ningbo, also in what is today Zhejiang, so the two could occasionally get together, at least until Bai Juyi's term as Governor expired.
As governor of Hangzhou Bai Juyi realised that the farmland nearby depended on the water of West Lake, but due to the negligence of previous governors, the old dike had collapsed, and the lake so dried out that the local farmers were suffering from severe drought. He ordered the construction of a stronger and taller dike, with a dam to control the flow of water, thus providing water for irrigation and so relieving the drought and improving the livelihood of the local people over the following years. Bai Juyi used his leisure time to enjoy the beauty of West Lake, visiting the lake almost every day. He ordered the construction of a causeway connecting Broken Bridge with Solitary Hill to allow walking on foot, instead of requiring the services of a boat. He then planted trees along the dike, making it a beautiful landmark. Afterwards, this causeway was named Bai Causeway, in Bai Juyi's honour.
Life Near Luoyang
In 824, Bai Juyi's commission as governor expired, and he received the nominal rank of Imperial Tutor, which provided more in the way of official salary than official duties, and he relocated his household to a suburb of the "eastern capital", Luoyang. At this time, Luoyang was the known as the 'Eastern Capital' of the empire and was a major metropolis with a population of around one million, and a reputation as the "cultural capital", as opposed to the more politically-oriented capital of Chang'an.
Governor of Suzhou
In 825, and fifty-three years old, Bai Juyi was given the position of Governor (or Prefect) of Suzhou, on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and on the shores of Taihu Lake. For the first two years he enjoyed himself with feasts and picnic outings, but after a couple of years he became ill, and he was forced into a period of retirement.
After his time as Prefect of Hangzhou (822-824) and then Suzhou (825-827), Bai Juyi returned to the capital. He then served in various official posts in the capital, and then again as prefect/governor, this time of Henan province, which was the province in which Luoyang was part of. It was in Henan that his first son was born, though only to die prematurely the next year; and, in 831 Yuan Zhen died. For the next thirteen years, Bai Juyi continued to hold various nominal posts, but actually lived in retirement.
In 832, Bai Juyi repaired an unused part of the Xiangshan Monastery, at Longmen, about 7.5 miles south of Luoyang. Bai Juyi moved to this location, and began to refer to himself as the "Hermit of Xianshang".This area, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famous for its tens of thousands of statues of Buddha and his disciples carved out of the rock. In 839, he experienced a paralytic attack, losing the use of his left leg, and became a bedridden invalid for several months. After his partial recovery, he spent his final years arranging his Collected Works, which he presented to the main monasteries of those localities in which he had spent time.
In 846, Bai Juyi died, leaving instructions for a simple burial in a grave at the monastery, with a plain style funeral, and not to have a posthumous title conferred upon him. He has a tomb monument, in Longmen, situated on Xiangshan, across the Yi River from the Longmen cave temples in the vicinity of Luoyang, Henan. It is a circular mound of earth 4 meters high, 52 meters in circumference, and with a 2.80 meter high Monument inscribed "Bai Juyi".
Bai Juyi has been known for his plain, direct, and easily comprehensible style of verse, as well as for his social and political criticism. Besides his surviving poems, several letters and essays are also extent.
One of the most prolific of the Tang poets, Bai Juyi wrote over 2,800 poems, which he had copied and distributed to ensure their survival. They are notable for their relative accessibility: it is said that he would rewrite any part of a poem if one of his servants was unable to understand it. The accessibility of Bai Juyi's poems made them extremely popular in his lifetime, in both China and Japan, and they continue to be read in these countries today.
Two of his most famous works are the long narrative poems The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, which tells the story of Yang Guifei, and The Song of the Pipa Player. Like Du Fu, he had a strong sense of social responsibility and is well known for his satirical poems, such as The Elderly Charcoal Seller.
Bai Juyi also wrote intensely romantic poems to fellow officials with whom he studied and traveled. These speak of sharing wine, sleeping together, and viewing the moon and mountains. One friend, Yu Shunzhi, sent Bai a bolt of cloth as a gift from a far-off posting, and Bai Juyi debated on how best to use the precious material:
About to cut it to make a mattress,
pitying the breaking of the leaves;
about to cut it to make a bag,
pitying the dividing of the flowers.
It is better to sew it,
making a coverlet of joined delight;
I think of you as if I'm with you,
day or night.
Bai Juyi was known for his interest in the old yuefu form of poetry, which was a typical form of Han poetry, namely folk ballad verses, collected or written by the Music Bureau. These were often a form of social protest. And, in fact, writing poetry to promote social progress was explicitly one of his objectives. He is also known for his well-written poems in the regulated verse style.
Song Of Unending Sorrow.
China's Emperor, craving beauty that might shake an empire,
Was on the throne for many years, searching, never finding,
Till a little child of the Yang clan, hardly even grown,
Bred in an inner chamber, with no one knowing her,
But with graces granted by heaven and not to be concealed,
At last one day was chosen for the imperial household.
If she but turned her head and smiled, there were cast a hundred spells,
And the powder and paint of the Six Palaces faded into nothing.
...It was early spring. They bathed her in the FlowerPure Pool,
Which warmed and smoothed the creamy-tinted crystal of her skin,
And, because of her languor, a maid was lifting her
When first the Emperor noticed her and chose her for his bride.
The cloud of her hair, petal of her cheek, gold ripples of her crown when she moved,
Were sheltered on spring evenings by warm hibiscus curtains;
But nights of spring were short and the sun arose too soon,
And the Emperor, from that time forth, forsook his early hearings
And lavished all his time on her with feasts and revelry,
His mistress of the spring, his despot of the night.
There were other ladies in his court, three thousand of rare beauty,
But his favours to three thousand were concentered in one body.
By the time she was dressed in her Golden Chamber, it would be almost evening;
And when tables were cleared in the Tower of Jade, she would loiter, slow with wine.
Her sisters and her brothers all were given titles;
And, because she so illumined and glorified her clan,
She brought to every father, every mother through the empire,
Happiness when a girl was born rather than a boy.
...High rose Li Palace, entering blue clouds,
And far and wide the breezes carried magical notes
Of soft song and slow dance, of string and bamboo music.
The Emperor's eyes could never gaze on her enough-
Till war-drums, booming from Yuyang, shocked the whole earth
And broke the tunes of The Rainbow Skirt and the Feathered Coat.
The Forbidden City, the nine-tiered palace, loomed in the dust
From thousands of horses and chariots headed southwest.
The imperial flag opened the way, now moving and now pausing- -
But thirty miles from the capital, beyond the western gate,
The men of the army stopped, not one of them would stir
Till under their horses' hoofs they might trample those moth- eyebrows....
Flowery hairpins fell to the ground, no one picked them up,
And a green and white jade hair-tassel and a yellowgold hair- bird.
The Emperor could not save her, he could only cover his face.
And later when he turned to look, the place of blood and tears
Was hidden in a yellow dust blown by a cold wind.
... At the cleft of the Dagger-Tower Trail they crisscrossed through a cloud-line
Under Omei Mountain. The last few came.
Flags and banners lost their colour in the fading sunlight....
But as waters of Shu are always green and its mountains always blue,
So changeless was His Majesty's love and deeper than the days.
He stared at the desolate moon from his temporary palace.
He heard bell-notes in the evening rain, cutting at his breast.
And when heaven and earth resumed their round and the dragon car faced home,
The Emperor clung to the spot and would not turn away
From the soil along the Mawei slope, under which was buried
That memory, that anguish. Where was her jade-white face?
Ruler and lords, when eyes would meet, wept upon their coats
As they rode, with loose rein, slowly eastward, back to the capital.
...The pools, the gardens, the palace, all were just as before,
The Lake Taiye hibiscus, the Weiyang Palace willows;
But a petal was like her face and a willow-leaf her eyebrow --
And what could he do but cry whenever he looked at them?
...Peach-trees and plum-trees blossomed, in the winds of spring;
Lakka-foliage fell to the ground, after autumn rains;
The Western and Southern Palaces were littered with late grasses,
And the steps were mounded with red leaves that no one swept away.
Her Pear-Garden Players became white-haired
And the eunuchs thin-eyebrowed in her Court of PepperTrees;
Over the throne flew fire-flies, while he brooded in the twilight.
He would lengthen the lamp-wick to its end and still could never sleep.
Bell and drum would slowly toll the dragging nighthours
And the River of Stars grow sharp in the sky, just before dawn,
And the porcelain mandarin-ducks on the roof grow thick with morning frost
And his covers of kingfisher-blue feel lonelier and colder
With the distance between life and death year after year;
And yet no beloved spirit ever visited his dreams.
...At Lingqiong lived a Taoist priest who was a guest of heaven,
Able to summon spirits by his concentrated mind.
And people were so moved by the Emperor's constant brooding
That they besought the Taoist priest to see if he could find her.
He opened his way in space and clove the ether like lightning,
Up to heaven, under the earth, looking everywhere.
Above, he searched the Green Void, below, the Yellow Spring;
But he failed, in either place, to find the one he looked for.
And then he heard accounts of an enchanted isle at sea,
A part of the intangible and incorporeal world,
With pavilions and fine towers in the five-coloured air,
And of exquisite immortals moving to and fro,
And of one among them-whom they called The Ever True-
With a face of snow and flowers resembling hers he sought.
So he went to the West Hall's gate of gold and knocked at the jasper door
And asked a girl, called Morsel-of-Jade, to tell The Doubly- Perfect.
And the lady, at news of an envoy from the Emperor of China,
Was startled out of dreams in her nine-flowered, canopy.
She pushed aside her pillow, dressed, shook away sleep,
And opened the pearly shade and then the silver screen.
Her cloudy hair-dress hung on one side because of her great haste,
And her flower-cap was loose when she came along the terrace,
While a light wind filled her cloak and fluttered with her motion
As though she danced The Rainbow Skirt and the Feathered Coat.
And the tear-drops drifting down her sad white face
Were like a rain in spring on the blossom of the pear.
But love glowed deep within her eyes when she bade him thank her liege,
Whose form and voice had been strange to her ever since their parting --
Since happiness had ended at the Court of the Bright Sun,
And moons and dawns had become long in Fairy-Mountain Palace.
But when she turned her face and looked down toward the earth
And tried to see the capital, there were only fog and dust.
So she took out, with emotion, the pledges he had given
And, through his envoy, sent him back a shell box and gold hairpin,
But kept one branch of the hairpin and one side of the box,
Breaking the gold of the hairpin, breaking the shell of the box;
"Our souls belong together," she said, " like this gold and this shell --
Somewhere, sometime, on earth or in heaven, we shall surely
And she sent him, by his messenger, a sentence reminding him
Of vows which had been known only to their two hearts:
"On the seventh day of the Seventh-month, in the Palace of Long Life,
We told each other secretly in the quiet midnight world
That we wished to fly in heaven, two birds with the wings of one,
And to grow together on the earth, two branches of one tree."
Earth endures, heaven endures; some time both shall end,
While this unending sorrow goes on and on for ever.