Friday, August 15, 2008

Lü Yan: Shade of Phoenix Trees

  Shade of Phoenix Trees
      Lü Yan [Tang Dyansty]

The sun is setting low, autumn wind chill.
You are coming tonight, my familiar, are you not?
The shade of phoenix trees I stand in disappears fast.

        [唐] 吕岩

Word-by-word annotation in English:

   梧桐phoenix tree影shadow
           [唐] 吕岩
 今夜tonight故人old friend来come不not来come?

Chinese Pinyin pronunication:

   梧wu2 桐tong2 影ying3
             [唐] 吕岩
落luo4日ri4斜xie2,秋qiu1风feng 1冷leng3

About the poet:
The biographical notes to the authors in Complete Tang Poetry recorded that Late Tang poet Lv Yan, after failing Xiantong (860-874) Imperial Examination, stayed in the capital Chang’an (Xi’an), drinking. Then he met Zhong Liquan and went to practice Taosim in Zhongnan Mountain, and then he was heard no more. He was one of the Eight Immortals in Chinese folklore, and was revered as one of the five founders of Quanzhen Taoism.

  This is an obvious “love” poem, and indeed it has been read as such. The speaker is waiting till the nightfall and the shadow of the trees in which s/he stands dissolves in and into the dark. Still, s/he seems to be hard to drag herself/ himself away. Also, the tone is usually assigned to a female.
  However, in Chinese cultural tradition, the phoenix tree could usually evoke the sentiment other than romantic love. The foremost allusion would be the phoenix tree in both Book of Poetry and Chuangtse.
  In The Great Odes of The Book of Poetry, a poem writes:
     Hark to the phoenix wings astir in the air,
     Here is their bourne, here is their place of rest,
     Old and tried officers crowd round the throne
     to know thy will, now thou art Heaven’s son.

     Old and tried officers crowd round the throne,
     Hark to the phoenix-wings at heaven’s gate,
     Let him appoint such as will keep touch
     With the folk of his state.

     Hark to the phoenix’ song
     O’er the high ridge amid dryandra boughs
     That face the rising sun,
     Thick, thick the leaves,
     So calm serene that song. (Ezra Pound’s translation)
  In Book of Songs, the phoenix tree is associated with the talented persons not necessarily of noble origin, and the poem has been understood as an ode to King of Zhou for and a call for him to a courteous and appreciative attitude toward the talented.
  In the passages immediately preceding the famous allegory about the pleasure of fish (How can you know I do not know the pleasure of the fish since you are not the fish?), someone warns the prime minister Hui that Chuangzi is coming to replace him. Hui is greatly concerned, whereupon Chuangzi tells a story. In the south, there is a kind of bird called phoenix, which will not perch on any tree but wu-tong tree, eats nothing but the fruits of bamboo, and drinks nothing but the purest spring water (“Autumn Water”). Wutong tree is therefore rendered as phoenix tree. A Chinese proverb goes: With Wutong trees planted before your gate, you shall expect phoenix to come.
  The person who is waiting in the shade of phoenix trees may be expecting someone noble-minded, and this can be justified also by the fact that scholars in the ancient when trying to recommend themselves to or ask for recognition from the emperor would adopt the personality and tone of a female. If related to the poet’s failures, the poem may imply the message of hope to be recognized.
  That is perhaps why in one of most famous modern men of letters and painters Feng Zikai’s (1898-1975) drawing, the waiting figure appears to be a man (a scholar).

           After Lv Yan by Feng Zikai


               Feng Zikai's After Lv Yan

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