Meditating on Ancient Times Along the Chu River 1

Ma, Dai 2 (circa 844 A.D.)

When cold lights gather and the moisture in the air becomes dense,
The sun with fading light sets behind Chu Mountains 3.
The apes on the trees along Lake Dong-Ting 4 growl.
I am in a magnolia boat 5.
The bright moon rises from the vast lake.
The green mountains sandwich the winding torrents.
Not seeing the god of clouds 6,
I lament the autumn all night.

1 The Chu River refers to the section of the Yangtze River in Hunan Province.

2 In 847 A.D., Ma was demoted from secretary of a military commander to a city clerk at Long-Yang (now Han-Shou in Hunan Province) simply because he told the truth in a straightforward manner. To vent his sorrows, he came to visit Lake Dong-Ting and the Xiang River. He was slandered for his honesty and demoted for his loyalty. When Ma visited the place where Yuan Qu had lived, the similar bitter experience that Qu had suffered reminded him of his own.

3 Chu Mountains refer to the mountains in Hunan Province.

4 Lake Dong-Ting in Hunan Province is the largest freshwater lake in China.

5 Strange Places says, "The Magnolia Creek is a tributary of the Xun-Yang River (the section of the Yangtze River in Jiangxi Province). Along the banks of the creek, there grew many magnolia trees. Ban Lu, the Father of Chinese Carpentry, made boats of magnolia wood." Here a magnolia boat refers to a wooden boat in general.

6 "The god of clouds" was mentioned in the poem "Nine Songs" written by Yuan Qu of Country Chu. His kings suffered a great loss because they did not listen to his advice. Exiled, he drowned himself in the Mi-Lo River near Lake Dong-Ting. Here "Not seeing the god of clouds" means that Ma could not find the spirit of Yuan Qu to tell his sorrows.