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Cherishing the Memory of My Father Country 1

Zhang, Yan 2 (1248-1318 CE)

I. (To the Tune of "The Tower of High Sun")

Prologue. I express my Springtime thoughts and feelings at Lake Xi-hu 3 in this poem.

The abundant leaves obscure the orioles in the nest 4.
The gentle waves carry fallen flowers.
The returning boats pass by Duan Bridge 5 at sunset.
How often may I visit Lake Xi-hu?
If I want to see flowers again,
I must wait until next Spring.
I hope the east wind may stay and keep the roses company.
When the roses bloom,
Spring is about to end.
It is more disheartening to see a touch of stray smoke 6
Rise above the abundant green surrounding Xi-ling Bridge 7.
Where are the swallows we saw years ago 8?
The moss grows deep in Wei-qu City 9.
The weeds darken the shore of the Xie River 10.
The new sorrow seems even to affect the gulls.
I do not intend to continue the dreams of music and song 11.
Close all the doors, drink a little wine, and sleep contentedly.
Do not open the blinds.
I fear to see falling flowers.
I fear to hear the cuckoo’s cry 12.

II. (To the Tune of "Clear and Flat Tunes") 13

Prologue. The smell of orchids is the national fragrance. They bloom for wise men. They do not draw attention by color or fragrance. They are fresh and elegant by nature. If Yuan Qu 14 did not write his great poems, how can the orchids 15 exist today? I was glad that I could see Si-Xiao Zheng's 16 orchid paintings. I wrote this poem to record my viewing of his paintings.

The painting of three blossoms and a single leaf
Is similar to your orchid paintings
I saw last time as we parted.
Facing an expanse of mist and water,
I have no one to speak to.
My sorrow prevents me from appreciating
The breeze and the moon of Lake Xi-hu.
Your chastity and fragrance are suitable only for recesses of a mountain.
Worldly affairs have nothing to do with you.
You leave us many beautiful images.
Your delicate fragrance cannot reach man's world.


1 After Kublai Khan, a Mongolian emperor, conquered China, Yan Zhang wrote many poems about cherishing the memory of his father country. The translator chooses two of them and assigns "Cherishing the Memory of My Father Country" as their title. This may help readers recognize the theme of Zhang's poems.

2 Su-xia and Yu-tian were Yan Zhang's other first names. He called himself Le-xiao-weng (happy-laughing-man). He was a grandson of Jun Zhang. Yan Zhang was born in western Shaanxi Province. Later, he moved to Lin-an City (present day Hang-zhou City), the capital of the Southern Song dynasty. After the Southern Song dynasty perished, he was dispirited and spent most of his time traveling. The summary of Si-ku (four warehouses)-chuan-shu (the collection of all the books in the library built in 1773; it divided Chinese books into four categories: Classics, history books, biographies, and collections) says, "Yan Zhang was born in 1248. When the Southern Song dynasty was destroyed by Kublai Khan, Zhang was thirty-three years old. He had been able to see the golden days of Lin-an City. Consequently, his writings were often sad and aroused sorrowful thoughts. Most of his writings described his feelings toward his father country. His poems were not simply intended to elaborate an artistic design. He mastered rhythm, carried on Kui Jiang's legacy, and improved upon his predecessors. It can be said that Yan Zhang was the unique outstanding poet east of the Yangtze River during the late Southern Song dynasty and the early Yuan dynasty." Yan Zhang wrote White Clouds on Mountains, a poetry book, Guide to Folk Style Poetry, and two volumes of The Origins of Ci Poetry (verse poems).
    The Origins of Ci Poetry written by Yan Zhang says, “When writing a ci poem, one should establish its title first. Next, select a tune to match the title. Then establish its theme and provide meaningful contents. Next, select a rhyme. Then contemplate wording. Only after the beginning and the end are arranged in advance may one begin to write.
    "The sentence structure should be smooth, proper, and concise. When writing a poem, one cannot expect every line to be excellent. The key point is to let the wording set off the theme in an elegant manner. Do not miss any opportunity to bring a good line into full play.
    "Do not use unfamiliar words in a poem. Words should be chosen carefully after much contemplation. Each word should be resonant. Zhu He and Wen-ying Wu mastered word choice because they followed the examples of Chang-ji Li (He Li) and Ting-yun Wen's poems. It would be dull and rigid if one were to express one's feelings directly and abstractly. In order to set off the theme gracefully, one should express one's thoughts by reflecting one's feelings upon one's surroundings instead.
    "It is difficult to write a poem about an object, especially a ci poem. One should give free rein to one's imagination and then organize one's ideas in a logical and harmonious order. The content should match the theme. The meaning of a poem should not be restricted to the objects. The appeal of a good poem lingers on."
    Si-xiao Zheng said, "Yan Zhang, my senior, followed the legacy of Kui Jiang, Da-zu Shu, Zu-gao Lu, and Wen-ying Wu by promoting Spring sound in this bustling world. Yan Zhang has created refreshing songs from the beautiful scenery of Lake Xi-hu for thirty years."
    Yan-yuan Dai said, "Wine inspired Yan Zhang's poetic thoughts. He often sang the folk style poems he had written. The music of his songs was smooth, tactful, and agreeable. It not only showed that no one could match his high-mindedness, but also made one forget one's worldly cares."
    Jin-ren Chou said, "The artistic ideas in White Clouds on Mountains are outstanding. Its sound schemes are harmonious. His poems may compete with Taoist Priest Kui Jiang's." Chou also said, "The pill of immortality is made by smelting lead with mercury. A poem is made by communicating feelings through scenery. Yan Zhang understands the secret of composing poetry. I will study poetry under his tutelage."
    Lang-feng Shu said, "Yan Zhang' poems are as elegant as Bang-yan Zhou's. After Kublai Khan conquered China, Zhang's delicate poetry style remained the same."
    Wen-kui Lu said, "The two volumes of The Origins of Ci Poetry written by Yan Zhang illustrate the five tunes (Gong, Shang, Jiao, Zhi, and Yu), twelve pitches (During Emperor Huang-di's reign (c. 2690 BCE), Ling-lun made pitch pipes from bamboo stalks and used these pipes as the standards to determine the pitch and purity of a sound. Later, musical instruments were made using these standards. These standards divided sound into twelve pitches. Six Yang pitches: Huang-zhong, Da-zu, Gu-yi, Rui-bing, Yi-ze, and Wu-yi; Six Yin pitches: Nan-gong, Da-nü , Xiao-nü , Ying-zhong, Ja-zhong, and Han-zhong). In this book Zhang Zhang wrote poems with passion to cerebrate the festivals of each month. Yan Zhang said he had studied rhyming schemes under the tutelage of Shou-zhai Yang and Nan-xi Xu."
    Jing-si Lou said, "Among the poets of the Southern Song dynasty, Yang Zhang was the only poet other than Kui Jiang who was successful with elegance and overtones. Zhang's art of composition and sentence structures surpass those of the poetry during the Northern and Southern dynasties and the poetry in Encountering Sorrows and The Book of Poetry. Zhang established a style of his own by forging various schools of poetry in one stove with one flame. When I read the poems in White Clouds on Mountains, they evoke peace and comfort just like white clouds on mountains."

3 "Xi" means "western"; "hu" means "lake". Lake Xi-hu is located west of Hang-zhou-shi City in Zhejiang Province. It is a famous scenic spot in China.

4 A poem of Fu Du's says, "The abundant leaves obscure the orioles in the nest."

5 Duan Bridge at Lake Xi-hu was alongside Gu (lonely) Mountain.

6 This sentence hints that the palace of the Southern Song dynasty has become a ruin.

7 Xi-ling Bridge was a bridge at Lake Xi-hu.

8 Birds no longer visited Lake Xi-hu because it lay in waste after Kublai Khan ruled China.

9 Wei-qu City was located south of Chang-an City and west of Huang-zi-po (prince slope). The Wei family of the Tang dynasty lived there for generations. This sentence of Zhang’s poem just means “A famous scenic spot lay in waste”.

10 "Xie" means "skew". The Xie River was between Xing-zi City and Du-chang City in Jiangxi Province. The great pastoral poet, Qian Tao, wrote a poem called "Visiting the Xie River".

11 "The dream of music and song" refers to the glory days of the Southern Song dynasty.

12 The poem, "A colorful harp", written by Shang-yin Li says, "King Wang lost his kingdom;/ After he died, he became a cuckoo/ Expressing his hope and sorrow through his song." King Wang was the King of the State of Shu at the end of the Zhou dynasty. Yu Du was his other name. Here "cuckoo's cry" reminds Zhang that Kublai Khan destroyed his father country, the Southern Song dynasty.

13 "You" in the first stanza refers to Painter Si-Xiao Zheng; "you" in the second stanza refers to orchids. After reading the above poem about orchids, one may desire to view the following videos:
The title of the first two videos is "Orchids". The title of the third video is "Orchids bloom in Spring".

14 Yuan Qu was an advisor loyal to his country, but his king sent him into exile. He wrote many great poems to express his sorrow. Yuan Qu is honored as the Father of Chinese Poetry.

15 "The orchids" refers to either Yuan Qu's integrity or his beautiful poems. In his poems, Yuan Qu used orchids to represent gentlemen and weeds to represent villains.

16 Abandonment of Farming says, "Si-xiao Zheng lived in seclusion in the southern area of Wu District. His room was simple. He faced south whenever he sat. During the festivals of offering sacrifices in the sixth and twelfth months of Chinese lunar calendar, he would go to the southern fields and cry. Only after he prayed for gods to bless his father country might he return home. No one knew this secret of his. Si-xiao Zheng mastered orchid painting. He would very rarely give his paintings to others. Even his mayor could not obtain one. Si-xiao Zheng had thirty acres of fields. The mayor said he would impose heavy taxes on Zheng's fields if he failed to surrender one of his orchid paintings. Zheng responded angrily, ‘You may kill me, but you cannot obtain my orchid paintings.’ This shows that Si-xiao Zheng was indeed a brave man of principles."
    Records of Those Who Refused to Accept Office Under the Yuan Dynasty says, "Yi-weng and Suo-nan were Si-Xiao Zheng's other first names. Si-xiao Zheng mastered orchid painting. After Kublai Khan destroyed the Song dynasty, Zheng painted orchids without soil. Consequently, the roots of orchids in his paints do not have anything in which to grow. People asked him why. He replied, 'Are you still not aware that our fatherland has been captured by Mongolians?'" The second of the above poems is pregnant with deep meanings rather than emotions. The way Yan Zhang wrote this poem closely matched Si-xiao Zheng's subtle meaning in painting orchids.