FU ON REMEMBERING THE PAST
TRANSLATED BY ROGER BAILEY
HSIANG HSIU, whose tzu or style name was Tzu-ch’i, was a member of the famous third-century literary coterie known as the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. He is known primarily as a great scholar and commentator of the Chuang-tzu Book; Chuang-tzu (369?-286? B.C.) was a famous writer and Taoist philosopher. Little of Hsiang’s purely literary work has survived. Hsi K’ang, whom he eulogizes in his Fu on Remembering the Past,” was a fellow member of the Seven Sages and a most celebrated performer on the lute. Hsi K’ang wrote the long “Fu on the Lute,” his best-known work, which was translated into English by R. H. Van Gulik (Hsi K’ang and His Poetical Essay on the Lute, Tokyo, 1941); he also wrote some miscellaneous lyric poems, and his self-revelatory “Letter to Shan T’ao” has been translated, with minor omissions, by Professor James R. Hightower (in Cyril Birch, ed., Anthology of Chinese Literature from Early Times to the Fourteenth Century, New York, 1965). The outstanding poet of the Seven Sages was Jüan Chi (210-263); many of his Poems from my Heart are in English versions.
These men lived during the Three Kingdoms period (221-264 A.D.) when the Ssu-ma family was trying to establish its legitimacy as the ruling house of China. Jüan Chi’s alternative to distasteful submission to a usurper was to escape into grotesque unconventionality. Hsi K’ang was unable to avoid running afoul of the authorities and was executed. His death seems to have broken Hsiang Hsiu’s capacity for resistance: he was on his way to assuming an office when he wrote this poem.
Written in alternating prose and verse, the fu, which flourished in the Han dynasty, was largely descriptive in nature. The immense length and obscure magnificence which often characterize this form undoubtedly were appropriate to the celebration of the glories of the Han dynasty. Like other later fu, however, Hsiang Hsiu’s “Fu on Remembering the Past” was obviously written in obedience to a genuinely lyrical impulse.
The original text for my translation is in the Wen Hsüan, chüan 16.
HSIANG HSIU/ FU ON REMEMBERING THE PAST
I USED to live near Hsi K’ang and Lü An; they were both men of untrammeled genius. But Hsi had high and unrestrained aspirations and Lü had a liberal and daring mind, and afterwards, for one reason or another, they were both executed. Hsi’s artistic gift was all-embracing, and he was particularly skilled with string and wind instruments. Just before he was to die, he turned to look at the shadows caused by the sun; then he asked for a lute and played on it. Having made a journey to the west, I returned and passed by his old hut. At that time, the sun was sinking below the horizon, and it was cold and bitter. A neighbor was playing the flute, and its solitary sound carried far. When I thought back on the joys of our former association, I was moved to sigh aloud; therefore, I composed this Fu:
I had been ordered to go to the distant capital;
Afterwards, I turned around and traveled back to the north.
I crossed the Yellow River by boat
And passed by the old dwelling in Shanyang.
Gazing on the bleak and desolate wilderness,
I halted my carriage at a corner of the city wall,
And following in the very footsteps of my two friends,
I passed by the empty hut in the secluded lane.
I sighed, remembering the “Hanging Millet” and its lament for the House of Chou;
I grieved, remembering the “Wheat Grain” poet as he passed through the Wastes of Yin.
Recalling the past made me long for my friends,
And I faltered, my heart irresolute.
The beams and roof still stand unharmed,
But where have the spirits and shapes of my friends gone?
Of old, when Li Ssu was about to be executed,
He sighed long for his yellow dog:
I mourn that when Master Hsi took his eternal departure,
He looked back at the shadows from the sun and played a lute.
Fully knowing what his fate was to be,
He occupied himself even in those last few moments of his life.
I heard the mournful sound of the flute,
Its lovely strains now cut off and now continuing.
Since my carriage was about to set out,
I raised my brush and wrote what was in my heart.
line 4 Shanyang is in present-day Honan Province.
lines 9 and 10 The “Hanging Millet” is poem No. 65 in The Classic of Poetry, an anthology of Chinese poetry compiled mainly during the Chou dynasty. The “Wheat Grain” poet was Chi-tzu of the Yin Dynasty, which preceded the Chou. After the fall of Yin, Chi-tzu passed by its ruined palaces and waste-lands; greatly moved, he composed the song, “Wheat Grain.”
line 15 Li Ssu was a minister to the first emperor of the Ch’in dynasty who helped to establish the Ch’in empire.