Let’s Meet un­der the Star­lit Sky

Beijing (English) - - POEM - Trans­lated by Feng Tiejun Edited by David Ball

The leaves of the white po­plar out­side the east gate are dense and green; two peo­ple have agreed to meet for a date at dusk and the stars are glit­ter­ing in the sky.

The leaves of the white po­plar out­side the east gate are green and dense; two peo­ple have agreed to meet for a date at dusk but the morn­ing star sparkles in the sky.

This poem, en­ti­tled “The Po­plar out­side the East Gate,” comes from the “Odes of Chen” chap­ter of the Book of Songs. The folk song orig­i­nated in the State of Chen dur­ing the pre-qin Pe­riod (21st cen­tury–221 BC) and de­picts the scene of a ro­man­tic date 2,500 years ago.

The State of Chen was lo­cated near Huaiyang and Tuocheng, He­nan Prov­ince and Bozhou, An­hui Prov­ince. Most of the folk bal­lads from the “Odes of Chen” are con­cerned with the top­ics of love and mar­riage. Peo­ple in the State of Chen be­lieved in sorcery and when seek­ing di­vine ad­vice, would often gather on hill­sides or be­neath large trees to sing and dance. It was dur­ing these gath­er­ings that young men and women would also pick their spouses or meet for dates.

“The Po­plar out­side the East Gate” de­scribes a young man wait­ing for his date who never showed up. The poem has eight verses and only 32 Chi­nese char­ac­ters; it is short, con­cise and im­plicit. When dusk is ap­proach­ing and the moon is not yet at its bright­est, the man was hid­ing in the shade of the po­plar tree wait­ing for his date joy­fully. How­ever, the story did not con­tinue as one would imag­ine. When the morn­ing star ap­peared in the sky, the new day broke qui­etly, but his date had not ap­peared. Starlight in the night sky fell across his shoul­ders; he had stood there the whole night, but his date did not come.

We do not know whether the man con­tin­ued wait­ing, but through the silent sad­ness con­veyed by the poem it can be un­der­stood that the poem came to an end, whether he kept on wait­ing or not. The wo­man the man was wait­ing for never showed up.

We can­not see the man’s emo­tions in “The Po­plar out­side the East Gate,” which seems to only “paint” a thin and soli­tary fig­ure. As we’re un­able to see his face or ex­pres­sion, we can­not know whether he was cry­ing or not. How­ever, if we ap­pre­ci­ate the “paint­ing,” we can see it is per­me­ated with an in­vis­i­ble but deep lone­li­ness. Since at that time things were ex­pressed im­plic­itly, if one per­son waited for a whole night and the other did not show up, the two peo­ple would be un­likely to ever see each other again.

Zhao Shixiu (1170–1219), an ac­claimed “ge­nius poet” from the Song Dy­nasty wrote a poem about wait­ing for some­one, en­ti­tled “Yue Ke” ( Wait­ing for a Guest). It was half­way through the night and his guest had not shown up, when his wait­ing sud­denly made him feel he had noth­ing to do. He was idly play­ing with the pieces on the chess­board, the plum rain was fall­ing lightly and the frogs were croak­ing joy­fully. All these sounds com­bined to com­pose a lovely song on a sum­mer night.

“Wait for you in the rain

The sound of ci­cadas can be heard in the rain that cre­ates a rain­bow

The frogs croak in a pool of flam­ing red lo­tuses It does not mat­ter whether you come or not in the rain

I feel ev­ery lotus is like you at dusk in the driz­zle

I will wait for you now and for­ever I will wait for you as long as time per­mits”

This poem de­scribes how the fa­mous poet Yu Guangzhong (1928–2017) felt when wait­ing for his date to ar­rive. He turned the oc­ca­sion into a poem whereby whether his date came or not, he would en­joy the wait in a re­laxed man­ner.

“Let’s meet un­der the star­lit sky.”on that night 2,500 years ago, the moon­light was slowly fad­ing away and only a lonely fig­ure was left. Thou­sands of years have passed but peo­ple still feel the same about wait­ing: we can­not for­get that this mood stems orig­i­nally from “The Po­plar out­side the East Gate.”

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