Croak­ing Frogs, Mu­sic to the Ears

Beijing (English) - - CHERISHED POEMS - Trans­lated by Zhou Fu­jing Edited by Mark Zuiderveld

Xin Qiji (1140–1207), a great poet of the Song Dy­nasty (AD 960–1279), wrote the poem “The Moon over West River • Pass­ing by Huang­shadao in the Evening” in 1182. At that time, he lived a ru­ral life in Shangrao, Jiangxi Prov­ince after be­ing dis­missed from of­fice. The poem reads,

Star­tled by mag­pies leav­ing the branch in moon­light,

I hear ci­cadas shrill in the breeze at mid­night.

The rice­fields’ sweet smell prom­ises a bumper year; Lis­ten, how frogs’ croaks please the ear!

In the sky, clouds are float­ing and stars are twin­kling, Lit­tle rain­drops fall on the moun­tain.

Where is the thatched cot­tage in the forests be­side the Tem­ple of Earth?

Around the cor­ner, the cot­tage turns up in front of me.

Xin Qiji was a na­tive of Licheng County, Ji­nan Pre­fec­ture, Shan­dong Prov­ince. He lived in an era when Jin Dy­nasty (1115–1234) troops in­vaded north­ern China and Shan­dong be­came oc­cu­pied by them. Xin joined up­ris­ings to fight against the Jin troops at 21.

During the South­ern Song Dy­nasty (1127–1279), he took up posts in He­bei, Jiangxi, Hu­nan, Fu­jian and east­ern Zhe­jiang. He contributed to re­ward­ing farm­ing and sta­bil­is­ing peo­ple’s liveli­hood. He pro­posed plans to re­cap­ture lost land sev­eral times, but his po­lit­i­cal opin­ions en­coun­tered ha­tred and jeal­ousy from his peers.

Xin Qiji was forced to re­sign in 1811 after be­ing framed by treach­er­ous of­fi­cials. The 42-year- old Xin then left for Jiangxi and be­gan his 20 years of ru­ral life in Daihu, si­t­u­ated un­der the foot of Ling­shan Moun­tain, north of Shangrao, Jiangxi Prov­ince. He built houses by the lakeside and pur­chased farm­land.

At that time, the South­ern Song Dy­nasty had ad­vanced science and tech­nol­ogy and pro­duc­tiv­ity though its ter­ri­tory shrank. The dy­nasty im­ple­mented “tiju” sys­tem for of­fi­cials. Re­tired or dis­missed of­fi­cials were al­lowed to ad­min­is­ter Taoist tem­ples if they didn't want to stay at home un­em­ployed, which turned out to be a ben­e­fit.

During the years in Shangrao, like many oth­ers of­fi­cials, Xin per­fected his use of ci, a style of po­etry, drew paint­ings, planted flow­ers and ex­er­cised. He never gave up the be­lief that one day he would be as­signed an im­por­tant post.

On a late au­tumn day in 1182, Xin vis­ited Nanyan Tem­ple, si­t­u­ated about 5 kilo­me­tres south of Shangrao where sev­eral hun­dred Bud­dhist stat­ues were placed in 72 stone caves of var­i­ous sizes. It was evening when Xin fin­ished the visit. He was on his way home in high spir­its. He walked on the path called “Huang­shadao” and stopped to view the night scenery.

Huang­shadao was a 20-kilo­me­tre-long ru­ral path from the thatched cot­tage in Huang­sha Vil­lage to the Huang­shal­ing moun­tain­ous area in Dawu Vil­lage. During the South­ern Song Dy­nasty, it was a bustling path that led to the an­cient city of Shangrao in the east and to Qian­shan County in the west.

Walk­ing along the path, the poet saw “the bright moon rise over the tree, star­tling mag­pies; amidst the sweet fra­grance of rice fields, peo­ple chat about the bumper year. Even the croak­ing of frogs pre­dict it is a good year.”

As a poet, Xin showed con­cern for peo­ple’s life. He was glad to see this and com­bined what he saw and heard in the poem “The Moon over West River.” A bright moon, croak­ing frogs, rice fields, and fly­ing mag­pies con­sti­tute a leisurely ru­ral scene from that time.

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