Bril­liant White Colt

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

Un­like other po­ems in the Book of Songs that deal with his­tory, agri­cul­ture, satire and love, “Bai Ju” (“White Colt”) is the only one that de­scribes re­luc­tance to part with a guest. It reads as fol­lows:

Let the bril­liant white colt, Feed on the young growth of my vegetable gar­den. Tether it by the foot, tie it by the col­lar, To pro­long this morn­ing. So may its owner of whom I think, Spend his time here at his ease!

Let the bril­liant white colt, Feed on the bean sprouts of my vegetable gar­den. Tether it by the foot, tie it by the col­lar, To pro­long this evening.

/ So may its owner of whom I think, Be here, an ad­mired guest!

If you with the bril­liant white colt, Would brightly come to me, You should be a duke, you should be a mar­quis, En­joy­ing your­self with­out end. Be on your guard against idly wan­der­ing; Deal vig­or­ously with your thoughts of re­tire­ment.

The bril­liant white colt, Is there in that empty val­ley, With a bun­dle of fresh grass. Its owner is like a gem. Do not make the news of you rare as gold and gems, In­dulging your pur­pose to aban­don me.

The horse is sym­bolic: it runs very fast in a valiant and heroic man­ner, as a re­flec­tion of the char­ac­ter of its owner. The verse that states, “You should be a duke, you should be a mar­quis, en­joy­ing your­self with­out end,” shows the cor­dial­ity and hos­pi­tal­ity of the host. Nat­u­rally, the distin­guished guest was full of joy and felt at home, how­ever, he would leave even­tu­ally.

Af­ter the guest leaves, the poet re­calls his gen­tle­manly con­duct and mo­ral in­tegrity, com­par­ing him to a gem. The guest was a man of noble mo­ral char­ac­ter, and so, the poet ex­pected to main­tain their friend­ship by writ­ing let­ters—only the clear and crisp sounds made by the horse­shoes could be heard in the empty val­ley. This “gem-like” friend had left and the poet wished him a safe trip home, and a deep friend­ship was formed. Over 1,000 years later, when the poet Du Fu (AD 712–770) was de­moted and went to Qu­tang, he still missed his home in Chang'an. Fi­nally, the poem “Bai Ju” came to his mind. Although the two cities were thou­sands of miles apart, his yearn­ing brought them to­gether. This ex­em­pli­fies the spir­i­tual in­spi­ra­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences of poets.

To­day, most peo­ple be­lieve that “Bai Ju” ex­presses a host's re­luc­tance to part with a guest. In fact, the mean­ing of the poem has been hotly de­bated for a long time. The Maoshixu ( Pref­ace to the Books of Songs) states that the poem is a satire of King Xuan's in­abil­ity to re­tain wise peo­ple in his court. Zhu Xi (1130–1200), a Song Dy­nasty poet, held a sim­i­lar opin­ion. In the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dy­nas­ties, some be­lieved that the poem in­di­cated King Wu's re­luc­tance to send Ji Zi back to his home af­ter the lat­ter re­fused to work for him. How­ever, Cai Yong (AD 133–192), an Eastern Han Dy­nasty scholar, wrote, “‘ Bai Ju' was a farewell to a friend.” Cao Zhi (AD 192–232), a fa­mous poet from the Three King­doms Pe­riod, also be­lieved the poem was about part­ing with a friend. Yu Guany­ing (1906–1995), a con­tem­po­rary scholar, also con­sid­ered the poem to be a farewell to a guest.

Some peo­ple think that the cre­ation of the image of a white colt was the poem's great­est con­tri­bu­tion to later gen­er­a­tions. Zhuang Zi (AD 369–286) once also used the image of this white horse when he cre­ated the id­iom “bai­juguoxi,” which means “a white steed flits past a crack,” to re­fer to the sen­sa­tion of how time flies!

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