KUBLAI AND THE LINNET
It is told that the great emperor Kublai, listening one day in his garden, condescended to praise the song of the common brown linnet. Do thou, O high-born scholar, who mayest overlook these clumsily written trifles, be not less gracious than that great emperor, Kublai!
THE ACACIA LEAVES
The aged man, when he beheld winter approaching, counted the leaves as they lapsed from the acacia trees; while his son was talking of the spring.
THE BITTER PURPLE WILLOWS
Meditating on the glory of illustrious lineage I lifted up my eyes and beheld the bitter purple willows growing round the tombs of the exalted Mings.
After the celebrated commentator Yu had spent thirty years in meditation on the first paragraph of the Tao-Te-Ching, he was urged by an inquisitive Viceroy to begin to write. He remarked, Indecent haste! How contrary to the precepts of the Tao-Te-Ching!
The great conqueror Khengiz, towards the close of his life, when he had subdued the four corners of the world and slain more than a million men, encountered on the way an old woman who inquired of him, Canst thou tell me anything of a certain Khengiz?
THE CORAL FISHER
The coral fisher, who had been a long time beneath the water, rose to the surface with nothing in his hand but a spray of crimson seaweed. In answer to the master of the junk he said, While I was in the world of fishes this miserable weed appeared to me more beautiful than coral.
THE CRIMSON PARROTS
On the way I saw the parrots of dusty crimson feathers wrangling over a piece of flesh, but on account of the perfume of thy scented billet I was unable to hear their screams.
Outside the Heavenly Kingdom, it is reported, dwell devil-worshippers who burn incense before the stake on which a sorcerer was formerly impaled.
The poet Wong, after he had delighted a company of mandarins at a feast, sat silent in the midst of his household. He explained, The diamond only sparkles when it is in the light.
Some one complained to the Master, After many lessons I do not fully understand your doctrine. In response the Master pointed to the tide in the mouth of the river, and asked, How wide is the sea in this place?
THE GOLD FISH
Like a breath from hoarded musk,
|Like the golden fins that move|
|Where the tanks green shadows part|
|Living flames out of the dusk|
|Are the lightning throbs of love|| 15|
|In the passionate lovers heart.|
THE INTOXICATED POET
A poet, having taken the bridle off his tongue, spoke thus: More fragrant than the heliotrope, which blooms all the year round, better than vermilion letters on tablets of sendal, are thy kisses, thou shy one!
I have heard that a certain princess, when she found that she had been married by a demon, wove a wreath of jonquils and sent it to the lover of former days.
THE LUSCIOUS NECTARINE
In the season of drouth, when the sallow rice bowed down before the reapers hook, the faithful lover, walking in the Garden of Friendship, plucked a luscious nectarine, and thinking of the beautiful betrothed he wished the marriage day were come.
Even as the seed of the marigold, carried by the wind, lodges on the roofs of palaces, and lights the air with flame-coloured blossoms, so may the child-like words of the insignificant poet confer honour on lofty and disdainful mandarins.
The sailor boy who leant over the side of the Junk of Many Pearls, and combed the green tresses of the sea with his ivory fingers, believing that he had heard the voice of a mermaid, cast his body down between the waves.
THE MIDDLE KINGDOM
The emperors of fourteen dynasties, clad in robes of yellow silk embroidered with the Dragon, wearing gold diadems set with pearls and rubies, and seated on thrones of incomparable ivory, have ruled over the Middle Kingdom for four thousand years.
THE MILKY WAY
My mother taught me that every night a procession of junks carrying lanterns moves silently across the sky, and the water sprinkled from their paddles falls to the earth in the form of dew. I no longer believe that the stars are junks carrying lanterns, no longer that the dew is shaken from their oars.
In the hall of ebony there grows a tree with golden tassels. In the branches is a silver nest out of which come forth twelve squirrels. In the heart of the tree dwells a fiery snake; when the wind blows the boughs of the tree smite together, and the fiery snake leaps forth.
The child who threw away leaf after leaf of the many-coated onion, to get to the sweet heart, found in the end that he had thrown away the heart itself.
THE PEAR TREE
Han, the wise emperor, bade his son: Look thou
|For merit where thou seest humility,|
|As they who strip the pear-tree seek for fruit|
|Upon the branches bending to the ground.|
A potter, who was creating the world, threw from him what seemed to him a useless lump of clay, and found that he had thrown away his left hand.
When the delicious verses of Li Po were praised in the Court of Heaven an envious mandarin complained of the poets scandalous life. The Divine Emperor, who was walking in his garden, held out a rose and asked him, Do you smell the gardeners manure?
To the passionate lover, whose sighs come back to him on every breeze, all the world is like a murmuring sea-shell.
THE STUPID KITE
A kite, while devouring a skylark, complained, Had I known that thy flesh was no sweeter than that of a sparrow I should have listened longer to thy delicious notes.
THE SWALLOW TOWER
Amid a landscape flickering with poplars, and netted by a silver stream, the Swallow Tower stands in the haunts of the sun. The winds out of the four quarters of heaven come to sigh around it, the clouds forsake the zenith to bathe it with continuous kisses. Against its sun-worn walls a sea of orchards breaks in white foam; and from the battlements the birds that flit below are seen like fishes in a green moat. The windows of the Tower stand open day and night; the winged Guests come when they please, and hold communication with the unknown Keeper of the Tower.
When the victorious general, Ching Wu,
|Had overthrown the Tartars, and their chief|
|Made captive, he reproached him bitterly|
|For having gone to war without a cause.|
|The Tartar answered: Were our country yours,|
|And China ours, you would make war on us.|| 40|
The exquisite painter Ko-tsu was often reproached by an industrious friend for his fits of idleness. At last he excused himself by saying, You are a watermilla windmill can only grind when the wind blows.
Millions of years ago, on another planet far off where different constellations hang, once a poet, forgetting sorrow, walked in summer along a white cliff high above the sea with a boy beside him. And the boy said, There in that house, before I lost my father and fell into poverty, formerly I lived, and in that turret with its little window I passed happy hours. And as he listened the poet felt deep in his heart a mystic pain such as he had never felt in looking back upon the lost palaces of his own youth. Afterwards the boy was drowned at sea, and the heart of the poet was drowned in care; yet to the end of his troubled life he never saw in stone or picture, neither heard nor read of, a turret like that one, but over him there stole the same mystic sorrow, like the breath of flowers out of a hidden garden, like a chord of music from passionate harpstrings away in some immortal world.
The first time the emperor Han heard a certain Word he said, It is strange. The second time he said, It is divine. The third time he said, Let the speaker be put to death.