I was born in 1763, under the reign of Ch' ienlung, on the twenty-second day of the eleventh moon. The country was then in the heyday of peace and, moreover, I was born in a scholars' family, living by the side of the Ts'anglang Pavilion in Soochow. So altogether I may say the gods have been unusually kind to me. Su Tungp'o said, "Life is like a spring dream which vanishes without a trace. " I should be ungrateful to the gods if I did not try to put my
life down on record.
Since the Book of Poems begins with a poem on wedded love, I thought I would begin this book by speaking of my marital relations and then let other matters follow. My only regret is that I was not properly educated in childhood; all I know is a simple language and I shall try only to record the real facts and real sentiments. I hope the reader will be kind enough not to scrutinize my grammar, which would be like looking for brilliance in a tarnished mirror.
I was engaged in my childhood to one Miss Yu, of Chinsha, who died in her eighth year, and eventually I married a girl of the Ch'en clan. Her name was Yun and her literary name Suchen. She was my cousin, being the daughter of my maternal uncle, Hsinyu. Even in her childhood, she was a very clever girl, for while she was learning to speak, she was taught Po Chuyi' s poem, The P' i P ' a Player, and could at once repeat it. Her father died when she was four years old, and in the family there were only her mother (of the Chin clan) and her younger brother K'ehch'ang and herself, being then practically destitute. When Yun grew up and had learnt needle-work, she was providing for the family of three, and contrived always to pay K'ehch'ang's tuition fees punctually. One day, she picked up a copy of the poem The P' i P' a Player from a wastebasket, and from that, with the help of her memory of the lines, she learnt to read word by word. Between her needlework, she gradually learnt to write poetry. One of her poems contained the two lines:
"Touched by autumn , one ' s .figure grows slender,
Soaked in frost, the chrysanthemum blooms full."
When I was thirteen years old, I went with my mother to her maiden home and there we met. As we were two young innocent children, she allowed me to read her poems. I was quite struck by her talent, but feared that she was too clever to be happy. Still I could not help thinking of her all the time, and once I told my mother, "If you were to choose a girl for me, I won't marry any one except Cousin Su." My mother also liked her being so gentle, and gave her her gold ring as a token for the betrothal.
This was on the sixteenth of the seventh moon in the year 1775. In the winter of that year, one of my girl cousins, (the daughter of another maternal uncle of mine, ) was going to get married and I again accompanied my mother to her maiden home.
Yun was the same age as myself, but ten months older, and as we had been accustomed to calling each other "elder sister" and "younger brother" from childhood, I continued to call her "Sister Su."
At this time the guests in the house all wore bright dresses, but Yum alone was clad in a dress of quiet colour, and had on a new pair of shoes. I noticed that the embroidery on her shoes was very fine, and learnt that it was her own work, so that I began to realize that she was gifted at other things, too, besides reading and writing.
Of a slender figure, she had drooping shoulders and a rather long neck, slim but not to the point of being skinny. Her eyebrows were arched and in her eyes there was a look of quick intelligence and soft refinement. The only defect was that her two front teeth were slightly inclined forward, which was not a mark of good omen. There was an air of tenderness about her which completely fascinated me.
I asked for the manuscripts of her poems and found that they consisted mainly of couplets and three or four lines, being unfinished poems, and I asked her the reason why. She smiled and said, "I have had no one to teach me poetry, and wish to have a good teacher-friend who could help me to finish these poems. " I wrote playfully on the label of this book of poems the words: "Beautiful Lines in an Embroidered Case," and did not realize that in this case lay the cause of her short life.
That night, when I came back from outside the city, whither I had accompanied my girl cousin the bride, it was already midnight, and I felt very hungry and asked for something to eat. A maid-servant gave me some dried dates, which were too sweet for me. Yun secretly pulled me by the sleeve into her room, and I saw that she had hidden away a bowl of warm congee and some dishes to go with it. I was beginning to take up the chopsticks and eat it with great gusto when Yun' s boy cousin Yuheng called out, "Sister Su, come quick!" Yun quickly shut the door and said, "I am very tired and going to bed." Yuheng forced the door open and, seeing the situation, he said with a malicious smile at Yun, "So, that's it! A while ago I asked for congee and you said there was no more, but you really meant to keep it for your future husband. "Yun was greatly embarrassed and everybody laughed at her, including the servants. On my part, I rushed away home with an old servant in a state of excitement.
Since the affair of the congree happened, she always avoided me when I went to her home, and I knew that she was only trying to avoid being made a subject of ridicule.
Our wedding took place on the twenty-second of the first moon in 1780. When she came to my home on that night, I found that she had the same slender figure as before. When her bridal veil was lifted, we looked at each other and smiled. After the drinking of the customary twin cups between bride and groom, we sat down together at dinner and I secretly held her hand under the table, which was warm and small, and my heart was palpitating. I asked her to eat and learnt that she was in her vegetarian fast, which she had been keeping for several years already. I found that the time when she began her fast coincided with my small-pox illness, and said to her laughingly, "Now that my face is clean and smooth without pock-marks, my dear sister, will you break your fast'?" Yun looked at me with a smile and nodded her head.
As my own sister is going to get married on the twenty-fourth, only two days later, and as there was to be a national mourning and no music was to be allowed on the twenty-third, my sister was given a send-off dinner on the night of the twenty-second, my wedding day, and Yun was present at table. I was playing the finger-guessing game with the bride's companion in the bridal chamber and, being a loser all the time, I fell asleep drunk like a fish. When I woke up the next morning, Yun had not quite finished her morning toilet.
That day, we were kept busy entertaining guests and towards evening, music was played. After midnight, on the morning of the twenty-fourth, I, as the bride's brother, sent my sister away and came back towards three o'clock. The room was then pervaded with quietness, bathed in the silent glow of the candle-lights. I went in and saw Yun's bride's companion was taking a nap down in front of our bed on the floor, while Yun had taken off her bridal costume, but had not yet gone to bed. She was bending her beautiful white neck before the bright candles, quite absorbed reading a book. I patted her on the shoulder and said, "Sister, why are you still working so hard? You must be quite tired with the full days we've had."
Quickly Yun turned her head and stood up saying, "I was going to bed when I opened the book-case and saw this book and have not been able to leave it since. Now my sleepiness is all gone. I have heard of the name of Western Chamber for a long time, but today I see it for the first time. It is really the work of a genius, only I feel that its style is a little bit too biting."
"Only geniuses can write a biting style," I smiled and said.
The bride's companion asked us to go to bed, but we told her to shut the door and retire first. I began to sit down by Yun's side and we joked together like old friends after a long period of separation. I touched her breast in fun and felt that her heart was palpitating too.
"Why is Sister's heart palpitating like that?" I bent down and whispered in her ear. Yun looked back at me with a smile and our souls were carried away in a mist of passion. Then we went to bed, when all too soon the dawn came.
As a bride, Yun was very quiet at first. She was never sullen or displeased, and when people spoke to her, she merely smiled. She was respectful towards her superiors and kindly towards those under her. Whatever she did was done well, and it was difficult to find fault with her. When she saw the grey dawn shining in through the window, she would get up and dress herself as if she had been commanded to do so. "Why?" I asked, "You don't have to be afraid of gossip, like the days when you gave me that warm congee." "I was made a laughing-stock on account of that bowl of congee," she replied, "but now I am not afraid of people's talk; I only fear that our parents might think their daughter-.in-law lazy."
Although I wanted her to lie in bed longer, I could not help admiring her virtue, and so got up myself, too, at the same time with her. And so every day we rubbed shoulders together and clung to each other like an object and its shadow, and the love between us was something that surpassed the language of words.
So the time passed happily and the honeymoon was too soon over. At this time, my father Chiafu was in the service of the Kueich'i district government, and he sent a special messenger to bring me there, for, it should be noted that, during this time, I was under the tutorship of Chao Shengtsai of Wulin [Hangchow]. Chao was a very kindly teacher and today the fact that I can write at all is due entirely to his credit.
Now, when I came home for the wedding, it had been agreed that as soon as the ceremonies were over, I should go back at once to my father's place in order to resume my studies. So when I got this news, I did not know what to do. I was afraid Yun might break into tears, but on the other hand she tried to look cheerful and comforted me and urged me to go, and packed up things for me. Only that night I noticed that she did not look quite her usual self. At the time of parting, she whispered to me, "Take good care of yourself, for there will be no one to took after you."
When I went up on board the boat, I saw the peach and pear trees on the banks were in full bloom, but I felt like a lonely bird that had lost its companions and as if the world was going to collapse around me. As soon as I arrived, my father left the place and crossed the river for an eastward destination.
Thus three months passed, which seemed to me like ten insufferable long years. Although Yun wrote to me regularly, still for two letters that I sent her, I received only one in reply, and these letters contained only words of exhortation and the rest was filled with airy, conventional nothings, and I felt very unhappy. Whenever the breeze blew past my bamboo courtyard, or the moon shone upon my window behind the green banana leaves, I thought of her and was carried away into a region of dreams.
My teacher noticed this, and sent word to my father, saying that he would give me ten subjects for composition and let me go home. I felt like a garrison prisoner receiving his pardon.
Strange to say, when I got on to the boat and was on my way home, I felt that a quarter of an hour was like a long year. When I arrived home, I went to pay my respects to my mother and then entered my room. Yun stood up to welcome me, and we held each other's hands in silence, and it seemed then that our souls had melted away or evaporated like a mist. My ears tingled and I did not know where I was.
It was in the sixth moon, then, and the rooms were very hot. Luckily, we were next door to the Lotus hover' s Lodge of the Ts'anglang Pavilion on the east. Over the bridge, there was an open
hall overlooking the water, called "After My Heart"--the reference was to an old poem: "When the water is clear, I will wash the tassels of my hat, and when the water is muddy, I will wash my feet." By the side of the eaves, there was an old tree which spread its green shade over the window, and made the people's faces look green with it; and across the creek, you could see people passing to and fro. This was where my father used to entertain his guests inside the bamboo-framed curtains. ①I asked for permission from my mother to bring Yun and stay there for the summer. She stopped embroidery during the summer months because of the heat, and the whole day long, we were either reading together or discussing the ancient things, or else enjoying the moon and passing judgments on the flowers. Yun could not drink, but could take at most three cups when compelled to. I taught her literary games in which the loser had to drink. We thought there could not be a more happy life on earth than this.
① As there were no walls or lattices whatsoever round the pavilion, they used to hang
down bamboo-framed curtains so that the dining party might not be seen by the people across
the creek. -- Tr.
One day Yun asked me, "Of all the ancient authors, which one should we regard as the master?" And I replied : "Chankuots' eh and Chuangtzu are noted for their agility of thought and expressiveness of style, K' uang Heng and Liu Hsiang are known for their classic severity, Ssuma Ch'ien and Pan Ku are known for their breadth of knowledge, Han Yu is known for his mellow qualities, Liu Tsungyuan for his rugged beauty, Ouyang Hsiu for his romantic abandon, and the Su's, father and sons, are known for their sustained eloquence. There are, besides, writings like the political essays of Chia Yi and Tung Chungshu, the euphuistic prose of Yu Hsin and Hsu Ling, the memorandums of Loh Chih, and others more than one can enumerate. True appreciation, however, must come from the reader himself."
"The ancient literature," Yun said, "depends for its appeal on depth of thought and greatness of spirit, which I am afraid it is difficult for a woman to attain. I believe, however, that I do understand something of poetry. "
"Poetry was used," I said, "as a literary test in the imperial examinations of the T'ang Dynasty, and people acknowledge Li Po and Tu Fu as the master poets. Which of the two do you like better?"
"Tu's poems," she said, "are known for their workmanship and artistic refinement, while Li's poems are known for their freedom and naturalness of expression. I prefer the vivacity of Li Po to the severity of Tu Fu."
"Tu Fu is the acknowledged king of poets," said I, "and he is taken by most people as their model. Why do you prefer Li Po?"
"Of course," said she, "as for perfection of form and maturity of thought, Tu is the undisputed master, but Li Po's poems have the wayward charm of a nymph. His lines come naturally like dropping petals and flowing waters, and are so much lovelier for their spontaneity. I am not saying that Tu is second to Li; only personally I feel, not that I love Tu less, but that I love Li more."
"I say, I didn't know that you are a bosom friend of Li Po!"
"I have still in my heart another poet, Po Chuyi, who is my first tutor, as it were, and I have not been able to forget him."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Isn't he the one who wrote the poem on The P' i P' a Player ?"
"This is very strange," I laughed and said. "So Li Po is your bosom friend, Po Chuyi is your first tutor and your husband's literary name is Sanpo. It seems that your life is always bound up with the Po ' s."
"It is all right," Yun smiled and replied. "to have one's life bound up with the Po's, only I am afraid I shall be writing Po characters all my life." (For in Soochow we call misspelt words "po characters.") And we both laughed.
"Now that you know poetry." I said, "I should like also to know your taste for fu poems."
"The Ch' u Tz' u is, of course, the fountain head of fu poetry, but I find it difficult to understand. It seems to me that among the Han and Chin fu poets, Ssuma Hsiangju is the most sublime in point of style and diction."
"Perhaps," I said, "Wenchun was tempted to elope with Hsiangju not because of his ch ' in music, but rather because of his fu poetry," and we laughed again.
I am by nature unconventional and straightforward, but Yun was a stickler for forms, like the Confucian schoolmasters. Whenever I put on a dress for her or tidied up her sleeves, she would say "So much obliged" again and again, and when I passed her a towel or a fan, she would always stand up to receive it. At first I disliked this and said to her, "Do you mean to tie me down with all this ceremony? There is a proverb which says, 'One who is over courteous is crafty.'" Yun blushed all over and said, "I am merely trying to be polite and respectful, why do you charge me with craftiness? True respect is in the heart, and does not require such empty forms," said I, but Yun said, "There is no more intimate relationship than that between children and their parents. Do you mean to say that children should behave freely towards their parents and keep their respect only, in their heart? Oh! I was only joking," I said. "The trouble is," said Yun, "most marital troubles begin with joking. Don't you accuse me of disrespect later, for then I shall die of grief without being able to defend myself. " Then I held her close to my breast and caressed her until she smiled. From then on our conversations were full of "I'm sorry's" and "I beg your pardon' s." And so we remained courteous to each other for twenty-three years of our married life like Liang Hung and Meng Kuang [of the East Han Dynasty], and the longer we stayed together, the more passionately attached we became to each other.
Whenever we met each other in the house, whether it be in a dark room or in a narrow corridor, we used to hold each other's hands and ask, "Where are you going?" and we did this on the sly as
if afraid that people might see us. As a matter of fact, we tried at first to avoid being seen sitting or walking together, but after a while, we did not mind it any more. When Yun was sitting and talking with somebody and saw me come, she ,,could rise and move sideways for me to sit down together with her. All this was done naturally almost without any consciousness, and although at first we felt uneasy about it, later on it became a matter of habit. I cannot understand why all old couples must hate each other like enemies. Some people say, "If they weren't enemies, they would not be able to live together until old age." Well, I wonder!
On the seventh night of the seventh moon of that year, Yun prepared incense, candles and some melons and other fruits, so that we might together worship the Grandson of Heaven① in the Hall called "After My Heart." I had carved two seals with the inscription "That we might remain husband and wife from incarnation to incarnation." I kept the seal with positive characters, while she kept the one with negative characters, to be used in our correspondence.
① The seventh day of the seventh moon is the only day in the year when the pair of heavenly lovers, the Cowherd ("Grandson of Heaven") and the Spinster, are allowed to meet each other across the Milky Way. --Tr.
That night, the moon was shining beautifully and when I looked down at the creek, the ripples shone like silvery chains. We were wearing light silk dresses and sitting together with a small fan in our hands, before the window overlooking the creek. Looking up at the sky, we saw the clouds sailing through the heavens, changing at every moment into a myriad forms, and Yun said, "This moon is common to the whole universe. I wonder if there is another pair of lovers quite as passionate as ourselves looking at the same moon tonight?” And I said, "Oh! there are plenty of people who will be sitting in the cool evening and looking at the moon, and perhaps also many women enjoying and appreciating the clouds in their chambers; but when a husband and wife are looking at the moon together, I hardly think that the clouds will form the subject of their conversation. " By and by, the candle-lights went out, the moon sank in the sky, and we removed the fruits and went to bed.
The fifteenth of the seventh moon was All Souls' Day. Yun prepared a little dinner, so that we could drink together with the moon as our company, but when night came, the sky was suddenly overcast with dark clouds. Yun knitted her brow and said, "If it be the wish of God that we two should live together until there are silver threads in our hair, then the moon must come out again tonight." On my part I felt disheartened also. As we looked across the creek, we saw will-o'-the-wisps flitting in crowds hither and thither like ten thousand candle-lights, threading their way through the willows and smartweeds.
And then we began to compose a poem together, each saying two lines at a time, the first completing the couplet which the other had begun, and the second beginning another couplet for the other to finish, and after a few rhymes, the longer we kept on, the more nonsensical it became, until it was a jumble of slapdash doggerel. By this time, Yun was buried amidst tears and laughter and choking on my breast, while I felt the fragrance of the jasmine in her hair assail my nostrils. I patted her on the shoulder and said jokingly, "I thought that the jasmine was used for decoration in women's hair because it was clear and round like a pearl; I did not know that it is because its fragrance is so much finer when it is mixed with the smell of women's hair and powder. When it smells like that, even the citron cannot remotely compare with it." Then Yun stopped laughing and
said, "The citron is the gentleman among the different fragrant plants because its fragrance is so slight that you can hardly detect it; on the other hand, the jasmine is a common fellow because it borrows its fragrance partly from others. Therefore, the fragrance of the jasmine is like that of a smiling sycophant." "Why, then," I said, "do you keep away from the gentleman and associate with the common fellow?" And Yun replied, "But I only laugh at that gentleman who loves a common fellow."
While we were thus bandying words about, it was already midnight, and we saw the wind had blown away the clouds in the sky and there appeared the full moon, round like a chariot wheel, and we were greatly delighted. And so we began to drink by the side of the window, but before we had tasted three cups, we heard suddenly the noise of a splash under the bridge, as if some one had fallen into the water. We looked out through the window and saw there was not a thing, for the water was as smooth as a mirror, except that we heard the noise of a duck scampering in the marshes. I knew that there was a ghost of some one who had been drowned by the side of the Ts'anglang Pavilion, but knowing that Yun was very timid, I dared not mention it to her. And Yun sighed and said, "Alas! Whence cometh this noise?" and we shuddered all over. Quickly we shut the window and carried the wine pot back into the room. The light of a rapeseed oil lamp was then burning as small as a pea, and the edges of the bed curtain hung low in the twilight, and we were shaking all over. We then made the lamplight a little brighter and went inside the bed curtain, and Yun already ran up a high fever. Soon I had a high temperature myself, and our illness dragged on for about twenty days. True it is that when the cup of happiness overflows, disaster follows, as the saying goes, and this was also an omen that we should not be able to live together until old age.
On the fifteenth of the eighth moon, or the Mid-Autumn Festival. I had just recovered from my illness. Yun had now been a bride in my home for over half a year, but still had never been to the Ts'anglang Pavilion itself next door. So I first ordered an old servant to tell the watchman not to let any visitors enter the place. Toward evening, I went with Yun and my younger sister, supported by an amah and a maid-servant and led by an old attendant. We passed a bridge, entered a gate, turned eastwards and followed a zigzag path into the place, where we saw huge grottoes and abundant green trees. The Pavilion stood on the top of a hill. Going up by the steps to the top, one could look around for miles, where in the distance chimney smoke arose from the cottages against the background of clouds of rainbow hues. Over the bank, there was a grove called the "Forest by the Hill" where the high officials used to entertain their guests. Later on, the Chengyi College was erected on this spot, but it wasn't there yet. We brought a blanket which we spread on the Pavilion floor, and then sat round together, while the watchman served us tea. After a while, the moon had already arisen from behind the forest, and the breeze was playing about our sleeves, while the moon's image sparkled in the rippling water, and all worldly cares were banished from our breasts. "This is the end of a perfect day," said Yun. "Wouldn't it he fine if we could get a boat and row around the Pavilion!" At this time, the lights were already shining from people's homes, and thinking of the incident on the fifteenth night of the seventh moon, we left the Pavilion and hurried home. According to the custom at Soochow, the women of all families, rich or poor, came out in groups on the Mid-Autumn night, a custom which was called "pacing the moonlight." Strange to say, no one came to such a beautiful neighborhood as the Ts'anglang Pavilion.
My father Chiafu was very fond of adopting children; hence I had twenty-six adopted brothers. My mother, too, had nine adopted daughters, among whom Miss Wang, the second, and Miss Yu, the sixth, were Yun's best friends. Wang was a kind of a tomboy and a great drinker, while Yu was straightforward and very fond of talking. When they came together, they used to chase me out, so that the three of them could sleep in the same bed. I knew Miss Yu was responsible for this, and once I said to her in fun, "When you get married. I am going to invite your husband to come and keep him for ten days at a stretch. '"I'll come here, too, then," said Miss Yu, "and sleep in the same bed with Yun. Won' t that be fun?" At this Yun and Wang merely smiled.
At this time, my younger brother Ch'it' ang was going to get married, and we moved to Ts'angmi Alley by the Bridge of Drinking Horses. The house was quite big, but not so nice and secluded as the one by the Ts'anglang Pavilion. On the birthday of my mother, we had theatrical performances at home, and Yun at first thought them quite wonderful. Scorning all taboos, my father asked for the performance of a scene called "Sad Parting," and the actors played so realistically that the audience were quite touched. I noticed across the screen that Yun suddenly got up and disappeared inside for a long time. I went in to see her and the Misses Yu and Wang also followed suit. There I saw Yun sitting alone before her dressing table, resting her head on an arm. "Why are you so sad?" I asked. "One sees a play for diversion," Yun said, "but to-day' s play only breaks my heart." Both Wang and Yu were laughing at her, but I defended her. "She is touched because hers is a profoundly emotional soul." "Are you going to sit here all day long?" asked Miss Yu. "I'11 stay here until some better selection is being played," Yun replied. Hearing this, Miss Wang left first and asked my mother to select more cheerful plays like Ch ' ihliang and Househ. Then Yun was persuaded to come out and watch the play, which made her happy again.