Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Commentary on Du Mu’s Poem – Simon Chu

Chun See,

Thank you for putting up that beautiful poem, 清明 (Qing Ming) by renowned Tang Dynasty poet, Du Mu. In response to your questions, here are my comments.

清明时节雨纷纷

路上行人欲断魂。
借问酒家何处有?
牧童遥指杏花村。

It drizzles endless during the rainy season in spring,
Travelers along the road look gloomy and miserable.
When I ask a shepherd boy where I can find a tavern,
He points at a distant hamlet nestling amidst apricot blossoms.



Du Mu's poem depicts, to a great extent, the sentiment of those people during that era (i.e. Tang dynasty) when Buddhism was widely followed by the Chinese society.

Du Mu was describing the mood of the people who went tomb-sweeping. While on their way to the cemeteries, they reminisced about their deceased loved ones and wished they could repay their (deceased) kindness.

The atmosphere is serene, with light drizzle, and the air is cool (return of spring). The flowers are blooming - mainly the xin hua [杏花 ], a flower which was common in the area south of the Yang Tze River [江南地带 ], known to be land of ‘fish and rice’ [ 鱼米之乡 ]. That is why Du Mu put it in as the last line of his poem. It is a beautiful picture. Must be in the countryside where the graves are found. The air is crisp and cool. The shepherd boy is minding the cows. The tomb-sweepers were on their way to the graves to remember their loved ones...in total sadness...[欲 = thinking of, or looks like ]

Also, the word, ‘travelers’ [行人] does not necessarily mean they are people who go tomb-sweeping. It could also mean those lonely travelers e.g. traders from afar. When they think of their deceased loved ones, they like to buy themselves a few cups of wine to drown their sorrow; what's more, accompanied by the timely atmosphere - crispy air and light drizzle. I am sure you have come across the ancient Chinese brush painting [山水画]


In case some of your readers prefer a Chinese version of the explanation of the poem, I provide it below:

从诗歌的语境看,为什么到清明行人就要断魂,要去借酒消愁?他可以去回家喝酒,可以欣赏春天的美景嘛。没有必然的道理。

其实古代“行人”有几种意思:
1出行的人;
2出征的人;
3使者的通称。

或者说远行之人,可以是使者,也可以指征人、商人。汉代以后主要指后两者,所谓“若非征戍,必为商旅”。

这样我们就可以理解杜牧的诗意了。清明春意盎然,山花烂漫,本该是家人团聚游春上坟祭祖的日子,而今却孤身赶路,离家万里,更兼春雨纷纷,倍增忧愁乡思。杏花村可能是因为卖酒出名吧。



This leads me to your 2nd question about the Chinese idiom concerning filial piety. It reads:

子欲养而亲不再

This line explains the time when the son (descendant) wants to repay his parents' kindness, but they are already gone!. This is probably taken from Confusius‘ collection:

树欲静而风不止,子欲养而亲不在。
《孔子家语·致思》



Finally, here's my version that sounds rather crude and rude: (hey, I was only a kid!)

My Qing Ming poem has to be taken in the Singapore context though, where the weather is always hot and humid. It goes:

清明时节,路焦焦
路上行人, 想吃蕉
借问何处, 有蕉卖
屎塘里面, 一条条


Come to think of it, my inspiration came from spending nights at your Lorong Kinchir place back in the late 60s/early 70s when the human waste was collected and disposed of at the sewerage centre, so called [ 屎塘 ].

The tracks at Pik San Teng were non-tarmac, and when the weather was dry and humid, one could feel the roasting dust [路焦焦]. Banana trees [香牙蕉]were common among the kampong area; but you need to buy – its not free. The reader has to read my version in Cantonese to bring out the ‘aroma’.

(Not sure if it is appropriate to post this naughty poem on your blog – but then you asked for it. Haha)


Posted by Simon Chu, Scotland.

18 comments:

zen said...

With those Tang Poems flying about, I regret neglecting my Chinese language studies during my school days. Now I am not able to appreciate them fully ... but still trying to.

Lam Chun See said...

Simon; its good to know that our kampong sh*t could inspire your literary juices to flow. Haha.

But seriously, now I know why you topped our level in ACS in Chinese.

zen said...

I would like to relate a story from my late mother on filial piety. There was this unfilial farmer who used to beat up his aged mother at his whim and fancy, especially when she bought his lunch (food) to him late. One day the farmer saw a mother goat feeding milk to her kid. The baby kid had to knee down in order to suckle the milk from her. This incident made him reflected on his atrocious behavior toward his mother. So when his mother came to serve him lunch the next day, he rushed forward, this time thinking of assisting her instead. The mother on seeing his son running towards her, mistakenly thought that the son would again going to beat her up for being late, fell into a pond, and thus drowned. The farmer was so remorseful over his misdeed that he mourned over his mother's grave for three years. The moral of the lesson is that we should be filial while our parents are alive and not to regret after their passing.

simplyetel said...

my pc cant read mandarin... so i cant understand half of the contents.... :(

Lam Chun See said...

Etel. That's funny. U are the one who tot me how to download the Chinese thing?

Lam Chun See said...

Zen. You are never too old to learn. The only difference, now you learn for the fun of it and not becos someone forced u.

simplyetel said...

uncle lam: haha! my pc crashed a couple of months ago and I just installed winXP not long ago la... thats why it became like this...

and you know why I cant view chinese? :p I'm not saying here =x

Lam Chun See said...

Commandment No. 5 of the Ten Commandments says:

"Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land .."

zen said...

It is great to do blogging at my age (early sixties) and also able to keep up with the younger generation and know their way of thinking. Please do not feel that an elder is intruding into your world of 'free expression'. Otherwise it would defeat the purpose of my participation.

Victor said...

Can't read Chinese? What else can it be, Etel? Cannot be due to software or hardware, right? Must be the heartware then. Your Chinese only 'mah mah dei' (Cantonese for mediocre)izit?

Chun See, it's confirmed - you've finally been ousted as oldest blogger - Zen is in his (or her?) 60s.

zen said...

Victor is getting nearer to the mark. As the Cantonese say, 'tei chuen', meaning that he is able to size up that person's character. In order to lessen the guessing game, I am a male.

Lam Chun See said...

Mybe we can get Today to interview the new champion 'laudie' blogger - Mr Zen.

zen said...

Better not, at my age I do not relish to be in the lime-light. The newspaper people should aim for Chun See. He needs all the publicity to further his professional career, and furthermore, the supporting cast should not overshadow the MAIN ACTOR.

simplyetel said...

uncle vic! my cheena ish A1!!!!!! *roars*

haha.. anyway, illegal so cannot tell =x

Victor said...

Etel, you have a right to remain silent... what you say may be used against you... LOL.

Zen, ok maybe not an interview with Today. But how about joining yesterday.sg as a member and tell your stories there? Both Chun See and myself have joined and I assure you that it is a fulfilling experience. (I must say that I am also playing only supporting actor role. Sorry for the commercial break).

Talking about that, can let us know your blog address or not?

zen said...

I must thank Victor for his sincere invitation, but my status is that of a vistor to Chun See's blog, throwing in some comments here and there, hoping that they are of use to younger generation. If I find myself irrelevant, then I may just exit quietly through the 'back-door'. I hope that the Chinese saying: "even a broken boat has three katis of nails left" has a reference to me.

Lam Chun See said...

Victor, for you info, Zen does not have his own blog. But I hope he will contribute articles to my blog like what Chuck has done.

zen said...

I am not so 'on' as Chuck. I believe I belong to the 'arm-chair critic' category and make contributions as such.