Brilliant White Colt
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!