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The Book of Songs and China's Literary Tradition

The Poetry of Retreat at the Fall of the Han

Tao Qian and the Tradition of Retreat

Prelude to Tang Poetry: Poetry of the Zhou and Han


"A Song of Seven Sorrows"

"A Song of Seven Sorrows," by Wang Can

The Western City thrown into all this disorder,
jackals and tigers come to plot its ruin.
Again I abandon the capital and depart.
Consign myself to the barbarians of the South.
My close kin all face me in sorrow,
dearest friends follow and cling to my robes.
As I leave the city gates, I see nothing before me,
save white bones covering the level fields.
On the road, a starving woman
who hugs her child then abandons him in the weeds.
She turns to hear his screams and howls,
then wipes her tears and goes on alone —
saying "I hardly know where I shall die!
How can I look after both of us?"
I drive on my horse, abandon her and depart,
for I cannot bear to hear her words.
Southward I climb the Tomb of Pa,
turn my head, look to the city.
I know now how the poet of "Falling Stream"
moaned and felt his heart break within!

Stephen Owen :: He abandons the city. This beautiful thing of leaving his family, his family clinging to him, and going out and seeing bones.

And the bones, of course, refer to or signify that family had not buried these people. Family has abandoned the dead.

And then on the way, he sees the mother abandoning her child; and the child will, of course, become the bones next week. And saying, "I don't know where I will die, how can I keep you alive."

And the poet says, "I couldn't bear to see this," and he abandoned them.

And this strange interplay between his abandoning his family, the bones as evidence of others abandoning the dead, the mother abandoning this child, him abandoning the mother and the child, and then climbing the tomb mound of Emperor Wan, the Emperor Wan represented the height of Han government. This was when everything worked.

Paul Rouzer :: Finally, and perhaps most important of all, Wang Can relates his own feelings to a poet who had composed a poem from the Book of Songs, the so-called "Falling Spring" poem, in which a poet compares his own emotional response to the fall of the Zhou dynasty capital to the actions of a spring, of a falling spring descending over the rocks with its cold water. Wang Can relates to this early poet, this early poet of a Book of Songs poem, and communicates his own feelings back through time to him, creates a bond between this early Book of Songs poet and himself.