It is Be­cause You Gave It to Me

Beijing (English) - - POEM - Trans­lated by Feng Tiejun Edited by Justin Davis

If the Book of Songs was a film, “Beifeng jingnü” (“Odes of Bei • A De­mure Girl”) would likely be one of the most im­pres­sive scenes. The de­mure girl was very beau­ti­ful and she was wait­ing for me around the cor­ner of the city wall; I could not see her for my line of sight was blocked, so I scratched my head and lin­gered anx­iously.

The girl had a beau­ti­ful face and gave a red brush pen to me; the pen was bril­liant red and I loved the colour.

She gave me some grass she had picked from the wild and it was so beau­ti­ful and rarely seen; it is not the beau­ti­ful grass but the girl that stirred my heart.

The poem is com­posed of only a few words that a young man said to him­self, but the young man’s per­son­al­ity is well-de­picted. Mod­ern peo­ple can still feel the sheer sin­cer­ity and hon­esty of the young man and the clev­er­ness of the girl. The well-known Chi­nese poem has left in­fi­nite space for imag­i­na­tion. We are even able to imag­ine the dra­matic but re­al­is­tic scene from the char­ac­ters’ points of view, based on their per­son­al­i­ties.

The beau­ti­ful and de­mure girl and the young man agreed to meet at the cor­ner of the city wall. It was sunny and birds were singing. How­ever, he was not in the mood for this. He was afraid of be­ing late, so he ar­rived very early. He looked around, but his line of sight was blocked by trees and houses, so he scratched his head and lin­gered. The de­mure girl even­tu­ally came out. She hid her­self nearby, looked at the young man and may have chuck­led with her hand over her mouth.

“Odes of Bei • A De­mure Girl” has long been recog­nised as a beau­ti­ful poem. The poem is not dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand, but its charm can­not be ig­nored. The poem has been se­lected by gen­er­a­tions of an­thol­o­gists. Mod­ern schol­ars gen­er­ally be­lieve that it is a love poem de­scrib­ing a se­cret date be­tween a young man and wo­man. How­ever, many an­cient schol­ars mis­in­ter­preted “A De­mure Girl.”

Be­cause the poem con­tains words like “city cor­ner” and “tong guan” (red brush pen), early schol­ars came up with many in­ter­pre­ta­tions that were not closely re­lated to the poem. Fe­male of­fi­cials re­spected by peo­ple in Chi­nese his­tory were re­spon­si­ble for record­ing court life and used tong­guan (red brush pens). Peo­ple who stud­ied clas­sics grasped the word “tong­guan” and af­firmed that the poem was a po­lit­i­cal al­le­gory. They thought of the de­mure girl as a fe­male of­fi­cial who satirised a fatu­ous and self-in­dul­gent em­peror and his wife. This in­ter­pre­ta­tion was very pop­u­lar in the past.

This in­ter­pre­ta­tion was chal­lenged by later gen­er­a­tions, and the poem was fi­nally re­stored to its orig­i­nal mean­ing. The true love eu­lo­gised in the poem be­gan to be un­der­stood by the gen­eral pub­lic.

Han Wo (AD 842–923), a Tang Dy­nasty poet, once wrote, “Dew­drops be­gin to ap­pear on flow­ers, but the girl is still wait­ing qui­etly with the moon hang­ing above.” Though time has elapsed, an ex­pec­tant girl be­haved grace­fully in her boudoir. Men may be more ea­ger than women when wait­ing for some­thing. In “A De­mure Girl,” the young man’s anx­ious wait ended hap­pily.

“She gave me some grass she had picked and the grass was so beau­ti­ful and rare.” This is what hap­pened when the de­mure girl fi­nally showed up. The red brush pen was more pre­cious than the grass, but the young man loved the lat­ter much more be­cause it was per­son­ally picked by the girl in the wild. Com­mon items from daily life of­ten end up hav­ing some of the most sen­ti­men­tal value.

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