Sunday, July 5, 2015

Song of Eternal Love

"You and I have often visited this temple
When I once resided near this summit
Pond showed its bottom only when water got cleared
Tunnel gate opened when white clouds got broken
We kindled fire raking fallen maple leaves to warm Sake (*)
We mulled over poems scraping mossed stones.(*)
And you leave me at this best chrysanthemum flowering season!"

So sang Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi (772-846), in sending his friend away. Unlike his contemporaries Li Bai, Du Fu and others, Bai Juyi is known for his direct, easy to understand and good-hearted poems and for this reason he has had many ardent followers in Japan, including myself. The above (*) marked lines were my favorite quotes from his poem. I saw his 120 lines, each line seven-worded “Song of Eternal Love” written on a monument when I traveled to Xi’an, China. There, at the foot of suburban Lishan, stood Emperor Xuanzong’s (685-762) Huaqing Detached Palace, where his beloved Yang Guifei (719-756) resided. Bai Juyi sang the poem in 809, about 50 years after Yang Guifei was strangled by her confidant Gao Lisjhi, an eunuch official serving the Emperor. It was when Bai Juyi and his friends were promoted to Tang palace officials that they traveled together to the site of the tragedy. He was mandated to write a poem to immortalize Yang Guifei and he wholeheartedly responded with passion. The poem found its way to Japan and is said to be the inspiration for the 12th Century “Tale of Genji” by Murasaki Shikibu.

“The Emperor neglected the world from that moment,
Lavished his time on her in endless enjoyment.
She was his springtime mistress, and his midnight tyrant.
Though there were three thousand ladies, all of great beauty,
All his gifts were devoted to one person.”

"Li Palace rose high in the clouds.
The winds carried soft music notes,
Songs and graceful dances, string and pipe music.
He could never stop himself from gazing at her.”

“But the Earth reels, war drums fill East Pass,
drowning out the Feathered Coat and Rainbow Skirt,
Great Swallow Pagoda and Hall of Light
are bathed in dust - the army fleeing southwards,
Out there Imperial banners, wavering, pausing
until the river forty miles from West Gate,
the army suddenly stopped. No one would go forward,
until horses hooves trampled willow eyebrows.
Flower on a hairpin. No one to save it.
Gold and jade phoenix. No one to retrieve it.
Covering his face, the Emperor rode on.
Turned to look back at that place of tears,
Hidden by (a) yellow dust whirl (in) a cold wind.”

A rebellion took place and An Lushan invaded Xi’an. The Emperor had to flee, protected by his guards, but soldiers sabotaged demanding life of Yang Guifei , a ruinous beauty. The Emperor had no choice but to hand her over. Oddly enough, An Lushan was close to both the Emperor and Yang Guifei, allying himself to become an adopted son of Yang, acquiesced by the Emperor. As the Commander of Hebei, Henan and Hedong, General Lushan had ambitions for the Chancellor post, but the position was snatched by Yang Guozhong, cousin of Yang Guifei, with whom Lushan developed hostilities. Guozhong spread word of Lushan’s treason and he was eventually trapped. Lushan, a Persian-Turkish mix, was reported to be a chubby and jolly man, played jester, and danced well whirling a pole for the Emperor. Yang Guifei and Lushan both played the Ney flute. The Emperor returned to Xi’an after the rebellion was subdued. Back at the palace, however, his heart was still full of grief and attachment, and he sent Tao priest to the nether world. The Tao priest brought back her love message to him:

“Of vows which had been known only to their two hearts:
On the 7th day of the 7th month, in the Palace of Long Life,
We told each other secretly in the quiet midnight world
‘In the heavens we shall be
as twin birds flying side by side;
on earth, trees with their branches intertwined.’
Heaven is everlasting and the earth endures,
while the grief shall be ever abiding.”

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