An Anthology of Chinese Literature
Beginnings to 1911, Stephen Owen, Editor and Translator. New York, WW Norton and Co., 1996 pp.212-13 Reprinted with permission.
Poetry was also part of the “People’s Tradition.” Although people might not be literate, they were able to recite poetry from memory. These poems show how the shaman sets out to summon the soul, to call him home to do his duty. During the third and fourth centuries poets were able to imagine the soul trying to make its way back. The soul may survive the body’s dissolution, but it needs the body to eat and drink in the usual way. The shaman fails. The poems are about death.
Ruan Yu (d. 212), Seven Sorrows
Hard to meet youth a second time,
honor and riches will not come again.
Life's best moments are suddenly past,
and body is nothing but soil and ash.
The Deep Springs' chambers are somber and dark,
forever in mansions of endless night.
Body is gone, the breath's force spent,
and the soul has nothing to which to return.
Fine foods are served, yet you cannot dine,
and the best wines fill the flacons.
Come forth from the tomb, gaze on your home,
and see nothing but weeds and brambles.
Tao Qian (365-327) Pall Bearer’s Song I
I used to have no wine to drink,
today it spills uselessly over the cup.
A spring brew with its floating lees -
when can I ever taste it again?
Before me a table is filled with fine foods,
kin and old friends weep by my side.
I try to speak, but my mouth makes no sound,
I try to see, there's no light in my eyes.
I used to bed in a high-roofed hall,
now I spend nights in a land of wild grass.
One morning at dawn I went out my gate,
and I truly have not yet made it back.