Southeast Fly The Peacocks

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One of the oldest songs known, the ballad of the original star-crossed lovers Zhong-qing and Lan-zhi was also the longest narrative poem ever written before the epic dunhuang form became popular during the Foon Dynasty.

Guzheng performance of song

A pair of peacocks southeast fly;
At each mile they look back and cry.
“I could weave,” said Lan-zhi, “at thirteen
And learned to cut clothes at fourteen;
At fifteen to play music light;
At sixteen to read and to write.
At seventeen to you I was wed.
What an austere life I have led!
You’re an official far away;
I toil as housewife night and day.
At daybreak I begin to weave;
At night the loom I dare not leave.
I’ve finished five rolls in three days,
Yet I am blamed for my delays.
Not that my work is done too slow,
But hard your housewife’s role does grow.
If Mother thinks I am no good,
What use to stay, although I would?
Will you come and to Mother say,
Send me back home without delay?”

Jiao Zhong-qing came home at her call
And said to his mother in the hall,
“I’m destined for a humble life;
By fortune I have this good wife.
We’ve shared the pillow, mat and bed,
And we’ll be man and wife till dead.
We’ve lived together but three years,
Which not too long to me appears.
She has done nothing wrong, I find.
Why should you be to her unkind?”

His mother said then in reply,
“You are indeed shortsighted. Why,
This wife of yours with me goes ill;
She always does whate’er she will.
I’ve been offended by her for long.
How dare you say she’s done no wrong?
In the east there’s a match for you,
A maiden whose name’s Qin Luo-fu,
A peerless beauty of this land.
I’ll go for you to ask her hand.
Now send your slut out of our door!
She should not stay here anymore.”

Zhong-qing knelt down with trunk erect
And said to her with due respect,
“If you should send away my wife,
I won’t remarry all my life.”
The mother was angry at his word;
Her strumming on the stool was heard.
“Has filial reverence come to nil?
Defend your wife against my will!
You are such an ungrateful son!
Of your request I will grant none.”

Zhong-qing dared not speak anymore,
But bowed and entered his own door.
He tells his wife when she appears,
His voice choked so with bitter tears,
“Not that I would send you away,
But Mother won’t allow you to stay.
Return to your brother’s house, so
That to my office I may go.
When I have finished my work, then
I’ll come and fetch you home again.
Do not be grieved to say adieu,
But keep in mind what I’’ve told you!”

“Nay, make no care to come for me!”
To her husband addresses she.
“One early spring day, I recall,
I left home for your entrance hall.
I’ve done what Mother ordered me.
Dare I be careless and carefree?
I do hard labour day and night;
Alone I toil with all my might.
I think I have done nothing wrong,
Still with Mother I can’t get along.
To what avail to talk about
Returning now I’m driven out!
“I’ll leave my jacket of brocade,
Whose lacings bright of gold are made,
And my canopy of gauze red,
Whose four corners with perfume spread,
And sixty trunks and coffers tied
With silken threads all in green dyed,
Where different things you will find;
Not two of them are of a kind.
They are as cheap as I, it’s true,
Not good enough for your spouse new.
So as gifts you may share them out,
As we can’t meet again, no doubt.
Keep them in memory of me!
Forgetful we can never be.”

At dawn she roses at the cockcrow
And made up with care, ready to go.
She put on an embroidered gown
And checked it over, up and down.
She put on shoes made of brocade,
Of tortoise shell her hairpin’s made.
Her waist was girt with girdle white,
Her earrings shone like moonlight bright.
She had tapering finger tips,
Like rubies were her rouged lips.
She moved at slow and easy pace,
Unrivalled in the human race.
She came to his mother in the hall,
Who said no tender words at all.
“While young, before I was a spouse,
I lived but in a country house.
Not well instructed or wide read,
For noble heir I was ill-bred.
Though kindly you have treated me,
Yet I’m not dutiful,” said she,
“So I must go back in despair,
Leaving to you all household care.”

She said to his sister good-bye;
Bitter tears trickled from her eye.
“When your brother and I were wed,
You came around our nuptial bed.
You are as tall as I today,
When I am to be driven away.
Take good care of your mother old,
And take good care of your household!
When maidens hold their festive day,
Do not forget me while you play.”

She went out and got on the cart;
Tears streamed down, heavy was her heart.
Jiao Zhong-qing rides before, his mind
Turning to his wife’s cart behind.
The cart’s rumble’s heard to repeat,
The husband stops where four roads meet.
He gets down from his horse, comes near
His wife and whispers in her ear,
“I swear not to leave you long, my spouse.
Return now to your brother’s house.
When I have finished my work, then
I’ll come and fetch you home again.
I swear to heaven high above.”

Lan-zhi says to her husband dear,
“I’m touched by your love sincere.
If I’m engraved deep in your mind,
Come then in time and not behind!
If as the rock your love is strong,
Then mine as creeping vine is long.
The vine’s resistant as silk thread;
No one could lift a rock o’erhead.
But my brother’s temper is hot,
Look on me kindly he will not.
I am afraid he’ll never care
What I like, and it’s hard to bear.”
They wave their hands with broken heart,
From each other they will not part.

Lan-zhi came to her mother’s place,
Feeling embarrassed in disgrace.
Her mother clapped loud in surprise:
“How can you come back in this guise!
You were taught to weave at thirteen;
To cut the clothes at fourteen;
At fifteen to play music light;
At sixteen to perform the rite.
At seventeen you were a bride;
By your husband you should abide.
Had you done nothing wrong at all,
Why come back alone to my hall?”
Lan-zhi told her mother the truth,
Who was moved to tears, full of ruth.

She had been back many a day,
A go-between then came to say,
“Our magistrate has a third son,
Whose good looks are second to none.
Though at eighteen or nineteen years,
For eloquence he has no peers.”
Her mother said to her, “consent
To this proposal benevolent!”
But she only answered in tears,
“Can I forget my married years?
My husband vowed when we parted then,
Never should we sever again.
If I should break my word today,
I would regret for e’er and aye.
Will you please tell the go-between
Gently and clearly what I mean?”
Her mother told the messenger,
“This humble daughter of mine, sir,
Sent back by an official of late,
Can’t match son of magistrate.
Why not inquire another house
Where may be found a better spouse?”

No sooner had gone this messenger
Than came one from the governor.
“You have a daughter fair,” said he,
“Of an official’s family.
Our governor has a fifth son,
Unmarried, he’s a handsome one.
My lord’s secretary asked me
His lordship’s go-between to be.
I was told to say openly
I come for my lord’s family.
His son will have your daughter for spouse.
That’s why I’m sent to your noble house.”
Mother Liu thanked the messenger,
But said she could not order her
Who’d made a vow, to break her word.

By Lan-zhi’s brother this was heard;
As it troubled his worldly mind,
He spoke to Lan-zhi words unkind.
“Why don’t you, sister, think it o’er?
You left then an official’s door;
Now you may marry a noble son;
Good luck comes when bad luck is done.
If you refuse this honour great,
I know not what will be your fate.”
Lan-zhi replied, raising her head,
“Brother, it’s right what you have said.
I left you once to be a spouse
Sent back, again I’m in your house.
So I’m at your disposal now.
Can I do what you don’t allow?
Though I vowed to my husband dear,
We cannot meet again, I fear.
So you may marry me at will,
My obligation I’ll fulfill.”

The go-between learned what they said,
To his lord’s house he went ahead.
He said his errand was well done;
The lord rejoiced for his fifth son.
He found in the almanac soon
The auspicious date of that moon.
He said to his subordinate,
“The thirtieth day is the best date.
That is only three days ahead.
Arrange the marriage in my stead.”
The lord’s order was given loud;
People bustled like floating cloud.
They painted with bird designs the boat
And with dragons the flag afloat.
A golden cab with wheels trimmed with jade
And golden saddles for steeds were made.
Three thousand strings of coins were sent
And silks to the bride with compliment.
Delicacies from land and sea
Were bought by two corteges or three.

Mother Liu told her daughter, “Word
Comes from the governor have you heard?
Tomorrow is your wedding day.
Put yourself in bridal array.
Make your own dress ere it’s too late!”
Lan-zhi sat in a pensive state.
She sobbed ’neath her handkerchief,
And streaming tears revealed her grief.
She dragged a marble-seated chair
Towards the windows in despair,
In her left hand the scissors bright
And silk and satin in her right.
At noon a jacket new was made
And at dusk a robe in brocade.
Behind dark clouds the sun down crept,
Grief-stricken, she went out and wept.

Zhong-qing, at this news of his spouse,
Asks leave and starts out for her house.
After a short ride on his way,
His horse makes an anguished neigh.
This neigh is familiar to her ears;
She comes out before he appears.
She gazes afar, at a loss
What to say when he comes across.
She pats the horse when it comes nigh,
And then says with a woeful sigh,
“Alas! Since you parted with me,
What’s happened we could not foresee,
Our hope cannot be realized.
On hearing this, you’ll be surprised.
I was compelled by my own mother
Together with my tyrant brother
To wed another man at last.
What can we do? The die is cast.”

Jiao Zhong-qing tells his former wife,
“I wish you a happier life!
The lofty rock steadfast appears;
It will stand for thousands of years.
Howe’er resistant the vine may be,
’Twill lose its toughness easily.
May you live happier day by day!
Alone to death I’ll go my way.”
“Why say such cruel things to me?”
To her former husband says she,
“We are compelled, both you and I
How could I live if you should die?
E’en dead, let us together stay!
Forget not what we’ve said today!”

They stand long hand in hand before
They go each to his or her door.
No lovers know a sharper pain
Than to part till death joins them again.
They’re willing to breathe their last breath;
A severed life is worse than death.

Jiao Zhong-qing went home full of gloom;
He went straight to his mother’s room.
“Today the cold wind blows down trees;
Bitten by frost, the orchids freeze.
I fear my life will end like the tree,
Leaving you alone after me.
That’s what such forebodings proclaim.
Don’t lay on gods or ghosts the blame!
May you like hillside rock live long
With your four limbs both straight and strong!”

On hearing this, his mother shed
Copious tears before she said,
“As one of noble family,
A high official you should be.
How could you die for such a wife?
Don’t play down on your noble life!
There’s a maiden in east neighborhood,
Beside her no one else is good.
I have wooed her to be your spouse;
Soon the reply will come to our house.”

Zhong-qing retired to his empty room,
Determined not to be a bridegroom.
He sighed and glanced towards the hall,
Seeing his tragic curtain fall.

In the blue tent on her wedding day
Lan-zhi heard cows low and steeds neigh.
At dusk the ghostly twilight waned;
The guests gone, lonely she remained.
“My life,” she thought, “will end today.
My soul will go, but my body stay.”
She doffed her silken shoes to drown
Herself in uprolled wedding gown.

This news came to her Zhong-qing’s ear;
He would not be severed from his dear.
To and fro in the yard paced he,
Then hanged himself beneath a tree.

Their families, after they died,
Buried them by the mountainside.
Pine trees were planted left and right,
And planes and cypresses on the site.
Their foliage darkens the groud;
Their branches intertwined are found.
A pair of peacocks fly above;
They are well known as birds of love.
Heads up, they sing song after song,
From night to night, and all night long.
A passer-by would stand spellbound;
A lonely widow would wake dumbfound.

Men of prosperity, I pray,

Do not forget that bygone day!