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To the Tune of "The Goddess" 1

Zhang, Xian 2 (990-1078 CE)

Prologue. This poem was written while I was the mayor's assistant 3 at Jia-he City 4. I did not go to the mayor’s office that day due to illness 5.

Holding my wine cup,
I listen to the Water Song 6.
The music awakens me from my midday drinking,
But my sorrow remains.
After I see Spring off,
When will it return?
As I look in the mirror at the sunset,
Lamenting the time gone by,
I recall and examine the past in vain.

It is getting dark.
A pair of waterfowl land on the sand from the pond.
The clouds break, the moon emerges, and the flowers sway with their shadows7.
Many layers of curtains block the lamplight.
The wind is still strong,
But I begin to feel peaceful.
Tomorrow my garden path should be covered with fallen blossoms.


1 Waterfowl and the shadows of flowers in this poem refer to Zhang's life experiences. "Curtains" represents obstacles. The wind represents hardship. Zhang's lament for fallen blossoms may refer to his lament for unutilized talents.

2 Xian Zhang was a native of Hu-zhou City. Zi-ye was his alternate first name. Zhang passed the Advanced Exam in 1030 CE. When Shu Yan was the Mayor of Jing-zhao City, he recruited Zhang as a department head. Guo-ting-lu (Passing the Yard) says, "The poem 'To the Tune of 'A Clump of Flowers'' written by Xian Zhang immediately became popular upon its release. Xiu Ou-yang, a great writer, loved it dearly and hated that he had not yet met Zhang. Zhang lived in Southern China. One time he went north to the capital to see Ou-yang for some reason. When the doorman announced Zhang's arrival, Ou-yang went to see him in such a hurry that his slippers were on the wrong feet. He introduced Zhang to others by saying, 'This is the one who wrote the line 'Peach and apricot flowers marry the east wind.'" This story showed how greatly Ou-yang treasured Zhang's talent.
    Notes on Poets and Poetry written near a Quarry says, "Xian Zhang mastered both classical poetry and Ci poetry. He was productive even when he became old. Xian Zhang lived in Qian-tang City when Dong-po Su was its deputy mayor. At that time Zhang was over eighty years old, but his sight and hearing remained acute. When he was eighty years old, he married an eighteen year old girl. He wrote a poem to his new wife. It said, "I am eighty and you are eighteen./ You cheeks are rosy and my hair is gray./ You and I were born in the same year (The cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar is sixty years)./ Except that there are sixty years in between." Once Zhang invited Dong-po Su to his home. Su wrote a poem to tease Zhang. It said, "The bride is eighteen and the bridegroom is eighty./ A grey-haired man confronts a young woman./ During their wedding night/ A blooming pear tree (its white flowers represent white hair) crushes crab apple blossoms (their red color represents rosy cheeks)." Zhang died eight years after the wedding. Zhang's wife gave birth to two of his sons and two of his daughters. Sheng Zhang, one of her two sons, later became a famous prime minister during the Song dynasty.
    Su wrote a poem to portray Xian Zhang's family life. It says, 'When the poet becomes old,/ Oriole [the girlfriend of Gong Zhang, the protagonist in the novel, The Romance of the Western Chamber, written by Shi-pu Wang] remains by his side./ The noble son returns home, Swallow [the mistress of Poet Hu Zhang] is busy working in his household.' Su quoted the love stories of the two men with the surname "Zhang" to tease Xian Zhang. Zhang responded with a poem. It says, 'My sorrow is like that of a Guan-fish (a thirty-pound fish, found in the Yellow River, which never closes its eyes throughout the night. It is often used as a poetic symbol representing a widower) which feels a night will never end./I neglect studies as I am busy with Spring activities alongside the butterflies.' Su loved Zhang's response and praised him as a seasoned poet. Scholars lament that most people read Zhang's Ci poetry but neglect his classical poetry."
    Poet Zhi-yi Li said, "Although Xian Zhang's poetic talent was inadequate, his passion was more than sufficient."
    Poet Bu-zhi Chou said, "Xian Zhang and Yong Liu were equally famous. Their contemporaries thought Xian Zhang's poetry is not as good as Yong Liu's. However, as for lingering charm, Liu's poems pale in comparison with Zhang's."
    Ting-zhuo Chen (1853-1892) said, "Xian Zhang's Ci poetry was an important dividing line for Ci poetry. Before Zhang, there were poets Shu Yan, Xiu Ou-yang, Ting-yun Wen, and Zhuang Wei. Although they helped develop the form and structure of Ci poetry, the color and rhyming schemes of their poems did not fully blossom. After Zhang, there were poets Guan Qin, Yong Liu, Dong-po Su, Qi-ji Xin, Bang-yan Zhou, and Kui Jiang. Although their poetry was spirited, vigorous, and radiant and completely changed the spirit and appearance of Ci poetry, the legacy of The Book of Classical Poetry was gradually lost. Zhang's poetry is right in between. It is both nuanced and expressive. For nuance, Zhang's poetry is not as subtle as Ting-yun Wen and Zhuang Wei's. For expressiveness, Zhang's poetry is neither as vigorous as Dong-po Su's nor as delicate as Yong Liu's. Although the scope of subjects Zhang's poetry covers is narrow, his poetic spirit and style maintain the ancient flavor."

3 Xian Zhang held this position when he was fifty-two years old.

4 Jia-he City is now called Jia-xing City which is located in Zhejiang Province.

5 One may desire to view the following video entitled “The Poem Written While Ill”:

6 Sui-tang-jia-hua (Stories from the Sui and Tang Dynasties) says, “Emperor Yang-di of the Sui dynasty ordered the excavation of the Bian River and composed the Water Song.”

7 Gu-Jin-Shi-Hua (Notes on Poets and Poetry) says, "A guest told Xian Zhang, 'People call you San-zhong Zhang ('san' means 'three'; 'zhong' means 'in'). The three zhong's refer to the phrases in your poems: Xin zhong shi (matters in mind), yan zhong lei (tears in the eyes) and yi zhong ren (lover in one's heart).' Zhang responded, 'I wish people called me San-ying ('ying' means 'shadow') Zhang. The lines which I have written and of which I am proud are 'The clouds break, the moon comes, and the flowers sway with their shadows'; 'The beautiful woman rises slowly and rolls up the shade, which has the shadows of flowers on it'; 'There are no people on the willow bank. The floating, fluffy willow seeds fall and lose their shadows (disappear)''" Gao-Zhai-Shi-Hua (Critical Reviews of Poems Written in the Lofty Study) says, "Xian Zhang wrote the following three lines: 'The mountain shadows extend to the edge of duckweeds'; 'The clouds break, the moon emerges, and the flowers sway with their shadows'; 'The moon casts the shadow of a swing to the other side of the fence'. Consequently, people call him San-ying Zhang."