Ou-Yang Hsiu of Lu-ling
With the completion of the T`ang dynasty, it was my design to bring this work to conclusion. I have, however, decided to include Ou-Yang Hsiu of the Sung dynasty, if only for the sake of his "Autumn", which many competent critics hold to be one of the finest things in Chinese literature. His career was as varied as his talents. In collaboration with the historian Sung C`hi he prepared a history of the recent T`ang dynasty. He also held the important post of Grand Examiner, and was at one time appointed a Governor in the provinces. It is difficult to praise the "Autumn" too highly. With its daring imagery, grave magnificence of language and solemn thought, it is nothing less than Elizabethan, and only the masters of that age could have done it justice in the rendering.
One night, when dreaming over ancient books, There came to me a sudden far-off sound From the south-west. I listened, wondering, As on it crept: at first a gentle sigh, Like as a spirit passing; then it swelled Into the roaring of great waves that smite The broken vanguard of the cliff: the rage Of storm-black tigers in the startled night Among the jackals of the wind and rain. It burst upon the hanging bell, and set The silver pendants chattering. It seemed A muffled march of soldiers hurriedly Sped to the night attack with muffled mouths, When no command is heard, only the tramp Of men and horses onward. "Boy," said I, "What sound is that? Go forth and see." My boy, Returning, answered, "Lord! the moon and all Her stars shine fair; the silver river spans The sky. No sound of man is heard without;
'Tis but a whisper of the trees." "Alas!" I cried, "then Autumn is upon us now.
'Tis thus, O boy, that Autumn comes, the cold Pitiless autumn of the wrack and mist, Autumn, the season of the cloudless sky, Autumn, of biting blasts, the time of blight And desolation; following the chill Stir of disaster, with a shout it leaps Upon us. All the gorgeous pageantry Of green is changed. All the proud foliage Of the crested forests is shorn, and shrivels down Beneath the blade of ice. For this is Autumn, Nature's chief executioner. It takes The darkness for a symbol. It assumes The temper of proven steel. Its symbol is A sharpened sword. The avenging fiend, it rides Upon an atmosphere of death. As Spring, Mother of many-coloured birth, doth rear The young light-hearted world, so Autumn drains The nectar of the world's maturity. And sad the hour when all ripe things must pass, For sweetness and decay are of one stem, And sweetness ever riots to decay. Still, what availeth it? The trees will fall In their due season. Sorrow cannot keep The plants from fading. Stay! there yet is man -- Man, the divinest of all things, whose heart Hath known the shipwreck of a thousand hopes, Who bears a hundred wrinkled tragedies Upon the parchment of his brow, whose soul Strange cares have lined and interlined, until Beneath the burden of life his inmost self Bows down. And swifter still he seeks decay When groping for the unattainable Or grieving over continents unknown. Then come the snows of time. Are they not due? Is man of adamant he should outlast The giants of the grove? Yet after all Who is it that saps his strength save man alone? Tell me, O boy, by what imagined right Man doth accuse his Autumn blast?" My boy Slumbered and answered not. The cricket gave The only answer to my song of death.
At the Graveside
Years since we last foregathered, O Man-ch`ing! Methinks I see thee now, Lord of the noble brow, And courage from thy glances challenging. Ah! when thy tired limbs were fain to keep The purple cerements of sleep, Thy dim beloved form Passed from the sunshine warm, From the corrupting earth, that sought to hold Its beauty, to the essence of pure gold. Or haply art thou some far-towering pine, -- Some rare and wondrous flower? What boots it, this sad hour? Here in thy loneliness the eglantine Weaves her sweet tapestries above thy head, While blow across thy bed, Moist with the dew of heaven, the breezes chill: Fire-fly, will-o'-the-wisp, and wandering star Glow in thy gloom, and naught is heard but the far Chanting of woodman and shepherd from the hill, Naught but the startled bird is seen Soaring away in the moonland sheen, Or the hulk of the scampering beast that fears Their plaintive lays as, to and fro, The pallid singers go. Such is thy loneliness. A thousand years, Haply ten thousand, hence the fox shall make His fastness in thy tomb, the weasel take Her young to thy dim sanctuary. Such is the lot For ever of the great and wise, Whose tombs around us rise; Man honours where the grave remembers not. Ah! that a song could bring Peace to thy dust, Man-ch`ing!