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To the Tune of "Gathering Mulberries" 1

Ou-yang, Xiu 2 (1007-1072 CE)

After the blooming season passed,
Lake Xi-hu 3 was wonderful.
The fallen flowers were randomly scattered about.
The floating, fluffy willow seeds obscured my view.
As the hanging willow branches brushed the banister,
We enjoyed the breeze all day 4.

After the music and song ended and the tourists left,
I began to feel that the joy of Spring was gone.
As I lowered the bamboo blind,
I saw a pair of swallows returning in the drizzling rain.


1 Many scholars interpret this poem as lamenting the end of Spring. If we read the above poem carefully, we will find that for the first stanza, the first, third, and fourth lines are negative, the rest are positive. For the second stanza, the first two lines are negative and the rest are positive. If its theme were lamenting the end of Spring, all the lines should have been negative. In order to correctly interpret this poem, we must read Ou-yang's other writings. The theme of his two essays "The Gazebo of the Old Drunkard" and "Ode to the Sound of Autumn (" is to understand the meaning of human life by observing nature. For example, the vicissitudes of life interact with each other as both cause and effect similarly to the four seasons in nature. His philosophy may inspire us to deal with our desires, emotions and frustrations better, and enjoy a better life. If one understands his philosophy and grasps his general theme, then one may easily interpret the above poem and will not misinterpret it.

2 Yong-shu was Xiu Ou-yang's alternate first name. In his late years, he called himself Liu-yi-ju-shi. He was a native of Lu-ling City in Ji-zhou County (which is either Ji-an-xian City or Yong-feng-xian City in present day Jiangxi Province:). When Xiu Ou-yang was four years old, his father died. His family was poor and could not afford to purchase writing brushes and paper. His mother taught him by writing words on the ground with a tree branch. In 1030, Ou-yang passed the Advanced Exam at the age of 24. In 1041, he became an advisor and then drafted the emperor's edicts. During that period Yan Du, Qi Han, and Zhong-yan Fan resigned their positions as prime minister one after another. In 1045, Ou-yang told Emperor Ren-zong that he should have retained these great prime ministers. The suggestion offended the emperor. Consequently, he was demoted to Mayor of Chu-zhou City (present day Chu-xian City of Anhui Province). While he was in Chu-zhou City, he called himself “Old Drunkard”. Later, he was transferred to Mayor of Yang-zhou City and then Ying-zhou City (present day Fu-yang City in Anhui Province). In 1049, he was reinstated as the member of the Royal Academy. In September 1054, he and Qi Song were appointed by Emperor Ren-zong to revise The History of the Tang Dynasty. Ou-yang also revised The History of the Five Dynasties. In 1060, he became the Vice President of the Privy Council. In 1061, he worked closely with Prime Minister Qi Han to administer state affairs. During the early years of Emperor Shen-zong's reign, he was demoted to Mayor of Bo-zhou City. Later, he was transferred to Mayor of Qing-zhou City and then Cai-zhou City. While he was the imperial tutor of the crown prince, he recruited talented scholars. In July 1071, he retired at Ying-zhou City. After he died, Emperor Shen-zong honored him by giving him the posthumous name “Wen-zhong” (Duke of Loyalty and Literature).
    In his early years, he loved to read Yu Han's essays. After taking pains to explore them thoroughly, he promoted ancient Chinese literary essays. His campaign for Chinese classics served to demonstrate principles of virtue that could be put into practice. All the Chinese scholars became his followers. Whenever he finished writing an essay, he would revise it many times. As translator, I do not have such patience as Xiu Ou-yang. However, I love to grasp any opportunity to submit my writings for publication. The responsibility to readers challenges me to revise them again and again, and thereby improve the quality of my work. Immediately after one finishes a piece of writing, one may not be able to detect any flaw. However, if one puts it aside for a while and then reads it again, the flaws may emerge. The solutions may suddenly appear during one's walk after dinner or during a period of wakefulness at night. If one revises this one's work many times, the writing will become smooth. Consequently, when one reads Ou-yang's prose, it is very difficult to find a better way to rephrase it.
    Ou-yang was a prolific writer and had brilliant achievements. His comments on The Book of Poetry, The Book of Changes, and The Spring and Autumn Annals were special. He collected 1,000 pieces of bronze and stones with inscriptions written from the Zhou dynasty to the Sui dynasty. Using these resources he wrote a research book called Records of the Inscriptions on Bronze and Stone. This is the earliest book on ancient writings that remains in China today.
    China's great writers who came after Xiu Ou-yang such as Gong Zeng, An-Shi Wang, Dong-po Su and Che Su were all his students. It is difficult to write great essays and it is even more difficult to produce a group of great writers. Here is one story about Ou-yang: When Dong-po Su took the Advanced Exam in March 1057, Ou-yang was the examiner. In this exam, Su’s score was the highest, but Ou-yang put him in the second place and put Gong Zeng in the first place. Ou-yang said, “Su is only twenty-two years old. If I put him in the first place, he might become proud.” It turned out that Dong-po Su became the greatest and the most prolific writer during this period of China’s Renaissance.
    Records of Folk Style Poetry says, "While Xiu Ou-yang lived in Ying-zhou City, he considered himself a middle-aged man growing old with his five hobbies: Researching Records of the Inscriptions on Bronze and Stone, reading 10,000 other books, playing the zither, playing checkers, and drinking wine. Consequently, he called himself Liu-yi(one of the set of six [Ou-yang and his five hobbies])-ju-shi(master of the scriptures of Buddhism). He wrote a Ci poetry book called Liu-yi's Ci Poems."
3 Lake Xi-hu (western lake) was located northwest of present day Fu-yang-xian City in Anhui Province. It is five miles long and one mile wide. It is where many rivulets of the Ying River join together. The title of the following video is "A Spring Morning at Lake Xi-hu":

4 Ou-yang's poem is nuanced and artistic. An-shi Wang (1021-1086), one of Ou-yang's students, wrote the following two lines: Spring wind takes flowers away/ And compensates me with cool shade. These two lines express the same idea as Ou-yang’s but in a more explicit and concise manner.