Let’s Meet under the Starlit Sky
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.”