A small drama in one act

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A cup of tea, a window seat,
An afternoon dialogue.

The scene opens on a sparse set,
My gaze left behind in rapt posture.
Words like moving pictures pass me;
I play myself in tragedy.

Are you all alone where you are

Longing gently touches him.
If I’m not here
where am I?
If I’m not me
who am I?

 

Vancouver, 1991

Text and artwork ©Lena Tan 1991/2016

Woman with attitude

Seal script character Ying

Seal script for Ying, surname of the ruling house of Qin

Lady Ying of Qin

Lady Ying was a daughter of Duke Mu of Qin (reigned 659 – 620 BCE). She is one of the few women mentioned in the Zuo zhuan, or Zuo Commentary, written around the 4th century BCE, a chronological collection of narratives about the feudal states of China during the later Zhou dynasty (the Spring and Autumn Period 春秋 770 – 476 BCE). The Zuo zhuan paints her as a confident, assertive woman, even if she does not escape the restrictive role given to her by society and the deprecatory comments of the male actors in it. When I began reading the Zuo zhuan, this representation of women as complex characters in their own right was a pleasant surprise, given the strength of the patriarchal dominance of the history and literature of the age. Lady Ying’s story tells us a little bit about one woman from a period that tells us very little about women. In this excerpt, Lady Ying speaks her mind to two lords of the powerful state of Jin, the second of whom is soon to become the famous Duke Wen, hegemon of the feudal lords of the states.

In 645 BCE, Duke Mu, ruler of the state of Qin, attacked and defeated the army of the state of Jin. Duke Mu captured Duke Hui, the ruler of Jin, but allowed Duke Hui to return to Jin in exchange for his son and heir, the Taizi (“designated heir”) Yu.

In the summer (of 643 BCE), the Taizi Yu of Jin became a hostage in Qin. Duke Mu of Qin gave him as wife his daughter Lady Ying.

夏 . 晉 大 子 圉 為 質 於 秦 . 秦 歸 河 東 而 妻 之 .

Yu planned to escape and said to Lady Ying, “Will you return home with this gentleman?”

將 逃 歸 . 謂 嬴 氏 曰 . 與 子 歸 乎 .

She replied, “You, sir, are the Taizi of Jin and you are shamed in Qin. If you, sir, wish to return home, is that not appropriate? But my unworthy lord (her father, Duke Mu of Qin) appointed this handmaid to wait on you holding towel and comb, so as to be your firm support. If I follow you in returning home, I will abandon my lord’s command. I dare not follow you, but I also dare not speak to anyone of this.” So he escaped and went home.

對 曰 . 子 . 晉 大 子 . 而 辱 於 秦 . 子 之 欲 歸 . 不 亦 宜 乎 . 寡 君 之 使 婢 子 侍 執 巾 櫛 . 以 固 子 也 . 從 子 而 歸 . 棄 君 命 也 . 不 敢 從 . 亦 不 敢 言 . 遂 逃 歸 .

In 637 BCE, Duke Hui of Jin died and Yu took the throne. Chong-er, Duke Hui’s half-brother, had been exiled from Jin. He had been travelling from state to state seeking support from their rulers, and was now making his way to Jin to claim the throne.

In Qin, Duke Mu presented him with five women, among whom was Lady Ying. One day, she served him with a basin of water for washing. When he was done, he waved her away. She was angry and said, “Qin and Jin are equals. Why do you disparage me?” The Gongzi (“son of a duke”) was afraid and lowered his robes like a captive.

秦 伯 納 女 五 人 . 懷 嬴 與 焉 . 奉 匜 沃 盥 . 既 而 揮 之 . 怒 曰 . 秦 晉 匹 也 . 何 以 卑 我 . 公 子 懼 . 降 服 而 囚 .

In spring of 636 BCE, Chong-er entered Jin. He sent his people to kill Yu and, with the help of Duke Mu of Qin, took the throne of Jin. He is known posthumously as Duke Wen.

Duke Wen of Jin went to meet his wife Lady Ying and they returned home. Duke Mu of Qin gave to Jin three thousand functionaries who would serve in the institutions of the government.

晉 侯 逆 夫 人 嬴 氏 以 歸 . 秦 伯 送 衛 於 晉 三 千 人 . 實 紀 綱 之 僕 .

Read the rest of the story of Lady Ying.

© Lena Tan 2016. If you quote from this translation, please credit me and reference my website.

Plum Blossoms

The sky is light gray, there is a dampness on the road, a bit of wind but no rain – it is just such a day and the wild plum in the backyard is almost in bloom.

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Li Qingzhao: Song to the tune of “Pusaman”

Translation and artwork: Lena Tan, 2006

Li Qingzhao (c.1083-aft.1149) was the daughter of a respected scholar and official in Song dynasty China. Her husband was often traveling on official business, perhaps accounting for the recurrent theme of aloneness in her poetry, although the loneliness of women was a common subject for this form of poetry written to the tunes of popular songs. In 1126, the Song capital fell to northern invaders and the court retreated southward to establish a new capital in Hangzhou. Li’s husband died at this time and she was left on her own to relocate her household.

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Dreaming at the sun’s edge

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Li Bai “The Traveller’s Road is Hard”

Translation and artwork: Lena Tan, 2003

Li Bai was born in Central Asia to a family outside the Tang artistocracy. He created a
rebel persona by exaggerating his eccentricities and writing a flamboyant poetry that has been called “strangeness on top of strangeness.” He was never accepted by his contemporaries in the capital, though his prodigious talent got him an appointment in the emperor’s court, from which he was eventually dismissed for frequent transgressions on the social conventions.

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Peace on Earth (please?)

 

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The Philharmonia Orchestra (London, UK) plays In the Bleak Midwinter.

Recall the homily of Pope Francis on November 19:

We are close to Christmas: there will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war. The world has not understood the way of peace.

What shall remain in the wake of this war, in the midst of which we are living now?

What shall remain? Ruins, thousands of children without education, so many innocent victims: and lots of money in the pockets of arms dealers. Jesus once said: ‘You can not serve two masters:  either God or riches.’ War is the right choice for him, who would serve wealth: ‘Let us build weapons, so that the economy will right itself somewhat, and let us go forward in pursuit of our interests. There is an ugly word the Lord spoke: ‘Cursed!’ Because He said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers!’ The men who work war, who make war, are cursed, they are criminals. A war can be justified – so to speak – with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war – piecemeal though that war may be – a little here, a little there, and everywhere – there is no justification – and God weeps. Jesus weeps.

Peace, please?

 


 

In the Bleak Midwinter
Text: Christina G. Rossetti, 1830-1894
Music: Gustav Holst, 1874-1934

Last verse:

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.

The Horse

horse

The Horse

Coloured pencil drawing. Available as 4″ x 6″ print mounted on greeting card.

The Fisher Price horse broke after one move too many. It was in the basement for many years, still ridable but at some risk, and I was surprisingly sad when I finally put it in the garbage can.

You will find this greeting card at Little Earth, 1020 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, B.C.

The year at dusk

 

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Du Fu “Night in a Pavilion”

Translation and artwork: Lena Tan, 2003

Du Fu

(712-770, Tang Dynasty)

Du Fu came from a family of distinguished scholars and officials. In his youth, he showed a talent for poetry and calligraphy. All his life he longed to serve his emperor and country but failed to secure a stable role in officialdom, which consigned his family to a life of relative poverty. He observed the extravagance of the emperor’s court, the suffering of the people, and the ravages of war, and wrote about that in his poetry.

Du Fu is an acknowledged virtuoso in technique and language, master of the perfect couplet while innovative in style and content. Another Tang poet, Yuan Zhen, inscribed on Du Fu’s tomb: “Since there have been poets, there has never been Du Fu’s equal.”

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White clouds without end

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Wang Wei, “A Parting”

Translation and artwork: Lena Tan, 2003

Wang Wei

(701-761, Tang Dynasty)

Born into an established family, Wang Wei enjoyed a position in high society, serving successfully in government. He was well-schooled in poetry, calligraphy, music and painting, and was sophisticated and innovative in his art. He became a devout Buddhist and wrote meditative poems of great simplicity and understatement. Yet his work reflected an ongoing discord between his sense of public responsibility and a private desire for renunciation.

 

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