Last chapter recap: Ning Yi and Nie Yun Zhu pick charcoal.
Chapter 18 Hang Oneself on the Southeastern Branch
Ever since Xiao Chan spilled the Prelude to the Water Melody on Midautumn night, Ning Yi stayed at home, pretending to be ill, for the next few days. When bored, he would play five in a row with Xiao Chan and other things. Today was his first day out. In the morning, he went to class at school. In the afternoon, he took the painted wooden board he had asked someone to paint white, and then went to buy charcoal pieces. Thus when he walked over, Elder Qin and Kang Xian were both present.
Ning Yi had no mental obstacles to taking and using poems. The poems he knew was a good strategic resource right now. If he became bored and wanted to do something in the future, he could use them to increase his fame. But there was no sense in using them right now to satisfy his sense of vanity.
The scholars of the time always quoted the classics. If he really wanted the fame, other people would want to examine him. Even if he had memorized all the Tang poems and Song lyrics, they would be useless. If the Analects of Confucius and the other classics were in front of hm, he could explain them in simple terms, and have some novel thoughts, but he had no other scholarly talent. The poem had been broadcast prematurely, but since it had occurred, he accepted it, unbothered.
To him, this problem was not a major one. He could go on the right path, or the unorthodox one. There were many solutions. Yesterday, when Grandfather Su, Su Bo Yong and the other called him and Su Bo Yong over to ask, he had casually spoke wild tales and said that he hadn’t written the poem. But for a strange reason … Grandfather Su looked at him for a long time and then said with a smile, “Since it happened, we have to keep it a secret … ” The old person was smart, and whether he believed it was unknown. However, if Ning Yi really was a great scholar, the Su Family would be in an awkward position. Right now, everyone was speculating.
Being a scholar was not as comfortable as being a zhuixu. He did not need to do many things or have many responsibilities. No one had any expectations of him. Due to this, he had no pressure. Grandfather Su also took good care of him. He would be stupid to want to break free of this kind of life. He finally managed to rest for a few months. Before any major incident occurred, he would hold on to his status as a zhuixu. He found this interesting, but if he told others, even Xiao Chan would not believe him.
Rumors must have occurred in the last few days. He could guess what they were like. However, when Xiao Chan spoke of the Water Point Poetry Conference to him, he was given a fright by Kang Xian’s name. In the end, he laughed silently. He had known the old man wasn’t simple but hadn’t expected such significance.
After resting the few days he should rest, he threw these matters to the back of his mind and returned to his normal life. This morning, when he had been teaching, people had found Mount Yu School. The incomers were Yu Zi Xing and some of the other scholars that Elder Kang had lectured. They came to apologize to him.
In a sense, after being lectured by Kang Xian like that at a poetry conference, Yu Zi Xing’s scholarly reputation was almost gone. This was an undeserved calamity. However, Kang Xian liked talented people, and conversed with Yu Zi Xing alone before leaving. Kang Xian told him to find a time to apologize. Once the news spread, it would give Yu Zi Xing some of his reputation back. Going to ask for forgiveness and correcting wrongs was a kind of good reputation.
The other side came with intentions, and Ning Yi cooperated, acting out a show. Of course he refused the invitation to join a scholarly gathering in the evening. Then he bid farewell to those scholars and went to get his white painted board.
“Zi Ying is actually good in his virtues, his talent is not top, but still good,” Kang Xian said with a smile. “But your Prelude to the Water Melody was so good. After this poem, I fear no one would be able to make another poem to the moon in the next few Midautumns here in Qinhuai. I really hadn’t imagined that a boy like you who is so ignorant has such skill.”
“I said I don’t understand poetry.” Ning Yi took a sip of tea. “in my childhood, a nomad Taoist passed by my home’s doorway and recited this poem. I remembered it, that’s all …”
He had said the same to Old Man Su. Elder Qin laughed out loud. “I fear even three-year-olds will not believe your words.”
Kang Xian also said, “People who are too lazy need to be beaten … a reputation as a scholar is useful. That woman just now has a very good appearance and composure, she walked together with you and you conversed well. If this becomes a marriage, haha, boy, you will have to thank this old man …”
Ning Yi was a zhuixu. If he wanted another woman, it would not be a simple matter. Kang Xian was just teasing him. Ning Yi told them how he had rescued her before Midautumn and then the two understood. The two finished their match in the meantime. The trio sat and rested together. Elder Qin held his teacup and nodded. He became interested in something else. “Writing? So you want to write with charcoal on this white board, and use it in school?”
“Yes, the sand trays cannot hold many characters at once, and is difficult to use. It is not as convenient as writing like this.”
When teaching, the classes wrote in sand trays. Usually, after writing a character, the sand would be smoothed over. The teacher would just display how to write the character to the students. Most knowledge was passed down orally, and demanded the students to focus when the teacher was speaking. After the teacher finished lecturing, the students had to use their understanding to memorize the meanings. For students who were not especially smart or proactive, it was difficult for them to keep up with the pace of learning.
Of course, to people like Elder Qin and Elder Kang, this method of teaching had been passed down thousands of years, and they naturally did not find anything wrong. Education was something for the superior people. If one wanted to become superior, how could they not work hard? This was one of the tests. Elder Qin took a charcoal stick and drew on the board. Then he frowned.
“The sand trays are soft, and writing with tree branches use similar techniques to writing with a brush. Charcoal is not easy to use to write, and changing methods like this may not be appropriate.”
Just now, Nie Yun Zhu only paid attention to how the characters looked. Elder Qin’s perspective was different. After just two strokes, he had an objection. As a teacher, not writing using the brush method could be a major or minor matter. Elder Kang tried and frowned. He said, “You have to be cautious in this matter.” If Ning Yi was his student, he might already be scolding the other, and using a harsh method to point out the severity of the matter.
Ning Yi could understand their worries. He smiled. and crouched to pick up a charcoal stick. “The problem is not major. Writing is to mold one’s morals and personality. Also, this way of writing has some similarities with writing with a brush. If just for recording, we can be less strict, and it … is just another perspective.”
After he spoke, he reached out to write. “Pink hands so fine, gold-branded wine 1, two golden orioles sing amid the willows green.” This was written in regular script. Then it turned into clerical script. “Outside the long pavilion, along the ancient route, 2 a flock of white egrets flies into the blue sky…3”
After those two lines, the writing turned to Song script, “The three-peak’d mountain is half lost in azure sky”
Song script hadn’t appeared yet in this time. Elder Qin and Elder Kang looked at each other. In order to explain this problem, it was better to use a stronger method. When Ning Yi talked business and sold to others in the past, he liked to use a forceful method disguised within calmness. The next line turned to a beautiful and lighter skinny script. “The two-fork’d stream by Egret Isle is kept apart. 4”
Then it was cursive script. “There is a beauty from the northwestern lands, hang oneself on the southeastern branches.”
Then it was italics. “Wishing to eye the view of a thousand miles, hang oneself on the southeastern branches.”
The board was only so large. After writing this, he put away the charcoal. “How is it?” Elder Qin and Elder Kang were already laughing and cursing.
“The script is acceptable, the poetry is nonsense …”
“It is a shame, an annoyance …”
“You are so lazy, haha, what is this poem …”
They said such things, but their gazes did not leave that white board. As they recited, they evaluated the words.
“A beauty from the northwest … ignorant, it should be “a beauty from the north lands, unequaled, above the world she stands” 5 This song is from the Book of Han. Then it is hang oneself on the southeastern branches. Haha, do you feel that southeast and northwest rhymes …”
“Elder Kang is wise.”
“If you are my student, I will have someone beat you with a stick. Even writing graffiti, you use the words of those before. Wishing to eye the view of a thousand miles, hang oneself on the southeastern branches. You do not fear Wang Zhihuan coming back as a ghost to haunt you! Every phrase is hang oneself on the southeastern branches, this Peacock Flies Southeast poem is unfortunate, those southeastern branches really offended you.”
“Haha, one day, I just felt that if poems can be combined together, it will have its own style. Doesn’t Elder Kang feel so? There is a beauty from the northwestern lands, hang oneself on the southeastern branches. Looking up, I find the moon bright, hang oneself on the southeastern branches. I see no one in mountains deep, hang oneself on the southeastern branches. How many great men were forgotten through the ages, hang oneself on the southeastern branches. Since olden days there’s never been a man but dies, better to hang oneself on the southeastern branches…” 6
Elder Kang shook his head, “One must be cautious when it concerns the sages.” His tone was amused but held a hint of warning. On the other side, Elder Qin looked at the other things and said, “How long will the full moon appear …” Elder Kang continued, “Probably has to hang oneself on the southeastern branches …” He started laughing.
Then Elder Qin took a charcoal stick and pointed at a few phrases. “This is all pieced together, but I do not know where they come from. These must be Li Heng’s old work, haha, red soft hands, yellow vine wine … not connected to the next, the two golden orioles sing amid the willows and a flock of white egrets flies into the blue sky should be one phrase … and the three-peak’d mountain is half lost in azure sky, the two-fork’d stream by Egret Isle is kept apart … such good imagery, should be another poem …”
He used the charcoal to circle the phrases, separating “red hands so fine, gold-branded wine” and “Outside the long pavilion, along the ancient route.” He looked and then drew a ling between them, feeling that the two should not be one poem. Kang Xian nodded as well. “Should be two.” Then he looked at Ning Yi. Ning Yi felt great admiration. If he looked at these twelve lines in a situation like this, he might think that they were from the same poem as the poem was very regular and the lines were the same length. These two lines were not easy to separate, but the pair in front of him divided it based on intuition.
“This is four poems. Are there complete poems, or are these just pieces?” Elder Qin looked towards Ning Yi and asked.
Translator Ramblings: Ning Yi is terribly misunderstood.
- Zhui Xu Chapter 20 “Speculation”
- Zhui Xu Chapter 19 “Loyal Subject”
- Zhui Xu Chapter 18 “Hang Oneself on the Southeastern Branch”
- Zhui Xu Chapter 17 “Presence”
- Zhui Xu Chapter 16 “Nie Yun Zhu”
- This is from Phoenix Hairpin – Red Soft Hand by Lu You from the Song Dynasty. Translation by Xu Yuanchong. ↩
- This is from Farewell Song by Hong Yi. (A modern work!) Translation from Wikipedia. ↩
- This is from A Quatrain by Du Fu. The translation used here is from Xu Yuanchong. ↩
- This is from On Climbing in Nanjing To The Terrance of Phoenixes by Li Bai. Translation by Xu Yuanchong. ↩
- The phrase is from the Book of Later Han, The Beauty Song by Li Yannian. The translation here is by Xu Yuanchong. ↩
- Each line has a part of a famous poem. To simplify things, I only used Xu Yuanchong’s translations. ↩