Did you read chapter eleven yet?
Chapter Twelve Water Point Poetry Conference
In the Turtle and Crane Garden of the Pan Family Compound, the Water Point Poetry Conference had reached its highest point.
As music sounded, sheets of paper were passed between hands. The singers sang the exceptional works of this night in light and airy voices. The atmosphere was relatively sterner here compared to the Pu Park Poetry Conference because there were more important people. However, all kinds of performances still caused the atmosphere to be lively but not lose its elegance.
The Turtle and Crane Garden was an exquisitely designed and traditional garden. It had all kinds of mountains, rocks, and streams of water, long corridors and pavilions. At this time, surrounded by the lamps with their riddles, everyone started the banquet within the garden. The females were on one side, the scholars on another, the host and the group of well-read and famous persons were on their own side. There was no stage set up for performances, but it was normal to occasionally see singers and dancers around the garden that made deep impressions. Those that came to this poetry conference were all famed courtesans. They had clearly spent great effort for this.
The poetry conference also had events such as lantern riddles, performances, and moon watching. There were even speeches from many of the erudite experts such as the host, Pan Guang Yan. At the beginning, even the prefectural magistrate of Jiangning had visited and said things along the lines of “Everyone is the great pillars of the country”. This was enough to show the status of Water Point Poetry Conference. Of course, in order to prevent any situations from occurring on this wild night, the prefectural magistrate had to stay at the government office. He could not stay long and hurriedly left.
If there were good works from the scholars at the poetry conference, many of them would stand up to discuss with the group. Once in a while, people would deliver some poems that were of sufficient quality. The papers would be passed among the participants. If the poem was really good enough, or someone had another opinion, they would stand up to recite the poem, and discuss with the group. Pan Guang Yan and the others would naturally give their opinion as well.
Elder Qin sat on one side of the banquet. Beside him was Kang Xian or Elder Kang, dressed richly as usual, who had sparred verbally with Ning Yi. His courtesy name was Mingyun. Due to this, many called him Mister Ming. His background was complex, he did not lack for riches and status, however, just based on his scholarly education, he deserved to be called Mister Ming by everyone else. There were a few among the dozens of students present who he had taught before and they could call him teacher. However, Elder Kang was usually strict and everyone feared him slight. But he had not criticized anyone today. He was actually satisfied with the quality of the Water Point Poetry Conference tonight.
At this time, he was talking and laughing quietly with Elder Qin. Usually, by this time, the poems that were truly good would have already come out. The two of them were discussing them.
” … …
Pausing on the Autumn Equinox Night,
the ghost1 is at its most bright.
Like over a great sea,
it is distant to see.
The layers of the sky lose their hue,
all monsters wish to hide from view.
It is the only one of its kind,
the call of the daybreak rooster slips the mind… …
Mister Qin, Beautiful River Poetry Conference’s Lin Ping’2 To the Midautumn Moon is full of talent. While there is never a best in the arts, in my view, this poem is most likely the best of the night.”
“First ghosts and then monsters, it really is unorthodox but give people a feeling of grandeur and excites the mind without any weirdness. This poem has the style of the Tang, Li Pin, Li Dexin, he has ascended into the ranks of the erudite ones. However, Mister Ming, you are as strict as usual. Water Point today also has a few good poems, here, like this one.”
Elder Qin smiled as he picked up a poem. ”
The sky water-clear,
the galaxy in the shallows near,
the moonlight sheer.
Like Chang’e hanging the treasure mirror high
up on the vast cold palace in the sky.
The leaves cry of autumn close,
picturesque curtains, in the wind, a dose
of orange fragrance blows.
On this evening, year after year,
the Yu towers prosper and disappear 3,
you cannot be biased, no?”
“Haha, you and I are not the judges, we are just casually admiring, no bias to speak of. Oh, this poem isn’t bad … …”
“In my view, the two best of this night are among these.”
Elder Qin was usually low-key and publicly only voice his opinions a few times tonight. He only talked about matters like these when chatting with friends. In truth, Water Point Poetry Conference’s Cao Guan – Cao Zong Chen, and Beautiful River Poetry Conference’s Li Pin – Li Dexin were some of the most famous students at present in Jiangning. The people below were mostly comparing their poems. While the saying was there was no best in the arts, people did compete for the reputation.
As people evaluated the poems, Pan Guangyan was smiling and speaking to Cao Guan. Soon after, someone sent in new poems that was divided into three to be passed among the crowd.
The truly good works, those that were of high skill, basically would not appear at this time, but there were still good ones. The crowd laughed and discussed as they passed over the pages. When one page came to Elder Qin and Kang, Elder Qin took a look and laughed.
“Oh? How is it?” Kang Xian asked.
“Haha, I hadn’t thought that a good one could come from Pu Park, take a look.”
“Oh? Pu Park.” Elder Kang also smiled. After he scanned the poem, he looked at the name below. “Xue Jin.” He shook his head and put the page down. “Average, acceptable but nothing novel.”
At this time, someone below shouted. “Gentlemen, I hadn’t thought that Beautiful River has produced a good poem at this time. In this one’s view, this poem is good.”
Someone who knew him smiled and said, “Then recite it.” That person nodded. A moment later, he started to speak, “This poem uses the Prelude to the Water Melody, everyone listen,
The autumn world waveless,
the moon is restless.
On top of the Yugu Tower, music plays,
the talk and laughter shedding the world’s haze 4… …”
When he recited to this place, he seemed to suddenly feel something. Turning his head, he saw an old person from the tower where Pan Guangyan and the other scholars were on suddenly stand. He held a sheet of paper in his hand as he hurriedly walked towards Pan Guangyan, his hands flicking the sheet of paper as he seemed to be reciting under his breath. Elder Kang and Elder Qin knew this person. Pan Guangyan had moved over seeing this person stand and this person handed over the paper before saying in a moderate volume to the surrounding people, “Everyone, look at this one.”
This was also the Prelude to the Water Melody. Seeing the people on the upper level paying attention to something else, the person who had been reciting stilled. Pan Guangyan reacted and raised a hand, indicating for the recital to continue. He did not look at the sheet of paper. After the recital of the poem ended, and he savored it for a moment, he smiled and voiced some opinions before he looked at the sheet of paper again. Moments later, he murmured under his breath and frowned. The people below, and even those over on the female side looked over.
“Old Man Crane, if it is a good poem, recite it. It is not good to tease people’s appetites like this.”
Pan Guangyan had a very good temple so Cao Guang, the leader of the group said with a smile. Then everyone else started to laugh and the atmosphere eased. Pan Guangyan laughed as well. “This is also the Prelude to the Water Melody, this poem … … let me recite it:
How long will the full moon appear?
Wine cup in hand, I ask the sky.
I do not know what time of the year
’Twould be tonight in the palace on high.
Riding the wind, there I would fly,
Yet I’m afraid the crystalline palace
would be too high and cold for me.
I rise and dance, with my shadow I play.
On high as on earth, would it be as gay?”
The Prelude to the Water Melody sounded in the courtyard. Before the first half was finished, no one was talking any longer. Pan Guangyan was a scholar of the arts, and he was solemnly reciting the poem according to the rhythm. While he recited slowly, he followed closely to the tone of the words.
Everyone present had great experience and skill in the arts. After hearing what they did, they detected the vastness, emptiness, and agelessness of this poem. The first few questions appeared simple. The arts prospered in this time, and people pursued complexity in their poems, all kinds of variations. Some even suggested if it was a poem on the moon, the best poems would be ones that did not even have the word “moon.” Yet this poem started with “how long will the full moon appear” but when placed with the next phrase, the scene naturally formed. When it came to the “crystalline palace,” the concept of the poem transformed from a small stream into a great river flowing off a mountain. Yet the following “I rise and dance … …” and other phrases turned from a roaring river into an ocean. At the same time, in a few words, it caused people to see the wondrous heavenly palace untouched by the mortal world.
Ever since the Tang Dynasty, many meaningful and great works had been produced as poetry developed for hundreds of years. Yet at this time, many poems was on the path to complicated variation but no creativity. If they could manage to return from this path, and back to the roots, everyone could have their own specialties, simple or complicated. But none had such a concept to this degree. The concept of this poem transformed and spread naturally, similar to the wild creativity of the scholars of the Tang Dynasty, reckless, but focused on the topic. In just the few words of the first half, the mastery of this Prelude to the Water Melody was completely displayed. Pan Guangyan paused, raised his head to look at the students below, and then recited the second half.
“The moon goes round the mansions red,
Through gauze-draped window soft to shed,
Her light upon the sleepless bed.
Why then when people part, is the oft full and bright?
Men have sorrow and joy; they part or meet again;
The moon is bright or dim and she may wax or wane.
There has been nothing perfect since the olden days.
So let us wish that man
Will live long as he can!”
” … …So let us wish that man will live long as he can!” After reciting the poem, Pan Guangyan repeated the last line. Looking at the crowd, he repeated nodded. A long moment later, he sighed, “… … a good poem.” Some people among the crowd looked at each other while others murmured the lines again. It was unusually silent. If it was any other melody, it was nothing, but this Prelude to the Water Melody was so charismatic it had passed down for a thousand years without losing any of its shine in the eyes of poets. Later generations even had the phrase “Among Midautumn poems, when Prelude to the Water Melody appears, all others are trash.” The people present felt this now. They had studied poetry for decades, some even for a lifetime. When they heard this poem, what they felt was something similar.
In such an atmosphere, Elder Kang reached to take the sheet of paper. He read it once and nodded slightly. A moment later, when he looked again, he seemed to notice something. He blinked his eyes in bewilderment. Hm?” Then he frowned and sank into thought, his expression spectacular. Elder Qing who noticed his expression and was still reflecting on the poem looked over.
“What is it?”
“Ha … … take a look.”
He handed over the sheet of paper. Elder Kang read character by character with narrowed eyes. From the “How long will the moon appear” to “will live long as he can,” he did not find anything wrong. This was good poem. He exhaled, shaking his head. Then his eyes narrowed, and he paused.
There were some more characters after the poem. But everyone was still reflecting on the phrases and Pan Guangyan hadn’t noticed it previously.
There was a signature at the lower left of the page, seven characters.
Elder Qin stilled, looked at Elder Kang for a while and then laughed.
“Ha … …”
In the little tower in Su Mansion, Ning Yi climbed up to take a drink of water. He suddenly sneezed repeatedly, and almost choked. He then dazedly went back to sleep, putting his blankets tight.
Translator Ramblings: I stopped translating on this chapter for more than 7 months because no one had translated Cao Guan’s poem and I, for the life of me, could not find any sources. Then there was Luo Yuan’s poem and I gave up. Cao Guan’s poem seems to be one of the poems that everyone knows. It is posted in Mid-Autumn poem collections but apparently simple enough that no one has written any “colloquial” explanations for this poem. Maybe this is one of the poems they study in Chinese class in school so everyone “knows.”Also, I have pretty much no idea of Chinese poem rhyming patterns so everything is in couplets. Also, it’s been so long that I don’t know if I actually found a translation of Li Pin’s poem or if I just pieced it together. I do hope that someone can find the source of the translation so I can cite it here.
In any case, rant over, and I make no promises for the translation accuracy nor if the translations makes sense or not. I tried my best to piece together lines using online Chinese dictionaries for “literary” meanings. For example, third line in Cao Guan’s poem has “金波” which literally is “gold ripple” but apparently it is used in poetry to describe moonlight. I can see how that works, since the light is yellow … … but my first assumption was the sun or star light. If anyone wants to wrangle the translation into something better, please do, and I’ll edit the chapter.
- The ghost is another way of referring to the moon. ↩
- Li Pin is an actual poet of the Tang Dynasty and his poem on the Midautumn Moon and other works are still mentioned today. ↩
- The author of this poem is Cao Guan, actual historical Cao Guan, an official of the Song Dynasty. If anyone is interested, you could google translate his baike page. I couldn’t find an English biography. ↩
- This poem is also another Prelude to the Water Melody. Author: Luo Yuan — Luo Duanliang (b. 1136 – d. 1184). ↩