Po­etry to Dis­pel the Sum­mer Heat

Beijing (English) - - CHERISHED POEMS - Trans­lated by Wang Shi Edited by Roberta Raine

Ac­cord­ing to the Chi­nese so­lar cal­en­dar, which is based on the sun’s po­si­tion in the zo­diac, sum­mer is di­vided into two terms, called Mi­nor Heat and Ma­jor Heat . In many parts of China, no mat­ter which pe­riod it is, sum­mer can be un­bear­ably hot. To find some cool air dur­ing the so­lar term of Mi­nor Heat in the scorch­ing sum­mer, many an­cient schol­ars and po­ets would ei­ther stay in the shade or sit by waterside pavil­ions. The fa­mous poem of the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907) Shant­ing xi­ari (“a sum­mer day in a moun­tain pavil­ion”) is an ex­cel­lent work cre­ated by poet Gao Pian (AD 821–887) when he was in an ex­alted po­etic mood, en­joy­ing the cool in a pavil­ion with a friend.

Long is the sum­mer day and thick is the shade; A house and pavil­ion are mir­rored in the pond. A gen­tle breeze rip­ples the water sur­face; Roses spread their fra­grance on the trel­lis.

In this poem, Gao de­picted a vivid sum­mer scene for later gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple to en­joy. This poem makes peo­ple feel cool like a fresh breeze, but what peo­ple don’t know is that Gao was living in great mis­ery when he wrote this poem.

Gao was born in a fam­ily of gen­er­als that com­manded the im­pe­rial guard troops. De­spite his love for po­etry and lit­er­a­ture, Gao never for­got this mis­sion, and so he con­cealed his po­etic and lit­er­ary gifts.

Dur­ing the so­lar term of Mi­nor Heat in AD 883, the hot weather made peo­ple ir­ri­ta­ble. To find peace of mind, Gao in­vited his friend Choe Chi­won (AD 857–?) to a pavil­ion built be­side the pond at his house. Their cheer­ful talk re­lieved their bore­dom and dis­pelled the heat. Choe was an out­stand­ing Con­fu­cian scholar who had come to China from Silla (present­day South Korea) in the late Tang Dy­nasty, and Gao ap­pre­ci­ated his lit­er­ary tal­ent. The close po­etic friend­ship be­tween these two men—the for­eigner Choe, a Con­fu­cian of­fi­cial sent to China from his home­land, and Gao, a mil­i­tary gen­eral and the Gov­er­nor of Huainan, has long de­lighted peo­ple.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing in Yangzhou, Choe stayed at an inn and led a hard­scrab­ble life. Gao took good care of him, asked the town’s Bureau of Re­cep­tion to lend him an of­fi­cial res­i­dence, and gave him a sub­sis­tence sub­sidy of 20 strings of cash each month. Later, Choe missed his fam­ily, but no mes­sen­ger could send his fam­ily let­ters across the sea. Later Choe learnt of a ship that was sail­ing be­tween Silla and Yangzhou, so he wanted to sell medicine to pay for the postage to send let­ters home. Gao granted him three months’ money for en­ter­tain­ment to meet his urgent need. Choe was al­ways grate­ful to Gao for tak­ing such good care of him.

At this point, Gao had been dis­missed from his of­fi­cial post by the im­pe­rial court for more than a year. Choe knew the anger and cha­grin in Gao’s heart very well. To dis­pel dis­con­tent in this frus­trated gen­eral’s heart, Choe said, “As the old Chi­nese say­ing goes, ‘ When the mind is still, you will be calm, cool and col­lected.’ Ac­tu­ally, when we en­counter bad luck in life, it’s bet­ter to main­tain our com­po­sure in­stead of com­plain­ing.”

Choe’s words shocked Gao, who never ex­pected a for­eign scholar to be so strong and calm in­side. Gao’s head sud­denly be­came sober and his heart be­came quiet. As the green trees’ thick shade, pavil­ions and rip­ples on the water’s sur­face came into his sight, he re­ally felt the cool of the sum­mer day. In an ex­alted po­etic mood, Gao en­tered the house and wrote Shant­ing xi­ari while sit­ting be­side a square ta­ble.

The Chi­nese so­lar term of Mi­nor Heat has a spe­cial mean­ing be­cause of Shant­ing xi­ari. To­day, when we read this fa­mous poem about es­cap­ing the sum­mer heat and en­joy­ing the cool, we can still feel a cool rush run­ning through the body and dis­pelling the un­bear­able heat. At this mo­ment, read­ers seem to have time­trav­elled to the world where Gao lived 1,000 years ago and per­son­ally ex­pe­ri­enced what Gao felt that sum­mer.

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