The Great­est De­light of the Year

Beijing (English) - - CHERISHED POEMS - Trans­lated by Wu Li Edited by Roberta Raine

Shihu (Stone Lake) in the sub­urbs of Suzhou was where Fan Chengda (1126–1193), a poet of the South­ern Song Dy­nasty (1127–1279) lived. His poem “Tian­she” (“Farm­house”) de­scribes what he saw there in the fields one day be­fore the au­tumn har­vest of 1186: Car­ry­ing hoes as we say hello,

We go to the fields to work,

And busy our­selves at the thresh­ing ground.

As the chil­dren sleep on the fallen leaves,

The birds sing their song to the set­ting sun. Sounds from a far- off vil­lage

Wrapped in the smoke of kitchen hearths,

Drift past our ears,

And the pleas­ant smells of a lush for­est

Spread across the land.

What, you ask, de­lights me the most of all the year? It is, I say, the fields of rice, golden in the glow­ing light.

On this day, Fan, who had long since re­tired to the coun­try, went to the fields, car­ry­ing a hoe. With the sun set­ting, sounds were dimly heard from the vil­lage, which was en­veloped in smoke from cook­ing fires, and a del­i­cate fra­grance came from the nearby for­est. On such a day in late au­tumn, Fan saw the paddy fields stretch end­lessly to the hori­zon, like golden clouds. Un­able to hide his joy over a fore­see­able good har­vest, Fan couldn’t find a bet­ter way to ex­press his hap­pi­ness than to com­pose the poem.

Such a life may look or­di­nary enough to read­ers, but for Fan Chengda, this is ex­actly what he had longed for after hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced hard­ships in his life. Fan is de­scribed in his­tor­i­cal records as a man who had many ad­ven­tures and ex­pe­ri­ences.

He was con­sid­ered by the peo­ple of his time to be a man of un­yield­ing char­ac­ter. In May 1170, Fan was sent to the Jin State to take up the post of grand sec­re­tary in the im­pe­rial Hall of State Af­fairs. Fan stayed firm and fear­less in the Jin court when con­fronted with threats and suc­ceeded in ful­fill­ing his diplo­matic mis­sion. He was re­warded for what he had done by the South­ern Song court. After that, Fan suc­ces­sively worked as an of­fi­cial in present-day Guilin in Guangxi Province, Chengdu in Sichuan Province, Ningbo in Zhe­jiang Province and in the city of Nan­jing. In April 1178, he was pro­moted to as­sis­tant ad­min­is­tra­tor, but two months later, Fan was im­peached by the im­pe­rial cen­sor and was re­moved from his new post due to a dis­agree­ment over po­lit­i­cal af­fairs with Em­peror Xiao­zong (reign: 1163–1190).

After ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the ups and downs of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, at the age 53, Fan re­turned to Shihu, the place where he had spent his child­hood and which he had of­ten thought of so fondly. Later, hav­ing aban­doned his of­fi­cial’s robe and changed into ca­sual clothes, Fan worked hard in the fields, car­ry­ing an un­wieldy hoe with the hands with which he used to sign of­fi­cial doc­u­ments. He ex­pe­ri­enced how it felt to toil year-round in both the scorch­ing sun and bit­ing wind.

Fan Chengda was al­ready 61 years old in 1186, a year that saw no no­tice­able changes to the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion of the South­ern Song Dy­nasty. But this was the year that Fan com­posed the book Sishi tianyuan za­x­ing (“pas­toral po­ems of four sea­sons”). As a re­sult of the poet’s hard farm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and sen­si­tiv­ity to life, the po­ems be­came widely known in the po­etry cir­cles of Fan’s time. Among th­ese po­ems, “Tian­she” is the most loved by read­ers and is still well known to­day. When read­ing the lines, one seems to see the golden fields, hear the sounds and smell the fra­grance of the for­est. Those coun­try­side scenes re­mind those of their sweet­est mem­o­ries, and bring those who are not fa­mil­iar with those scenes and the fresh, clean feel­ing of be­ing in na­ture.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.