It is Because You Gave It to Me
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.