Night Music

Practice, rest, repeat, Bai Juyi says to those learning to play an instrument.

Perhaps written ca. 818, when Bai Juyi was sent in dispair deep in Sichuan, to distant Chongzhou (considered the birthplace of Taoism). There Bai began to learn the guzheng, a Chinese zither. The zhēng (zither) able to create ten thousand sounds of Nature.

Night Music
Purple sleeves, red strings, during a bright moon.
In the dark, playing alone, bowing my head.
Strings cease, fingers rest, all sound stops.
Having deep feelings, ten thousand times over, repeat.

紫袖红弦明月中, 自弹自感暗低容
弦凝指咽声停处, 别有深情一万重

yè zhēng

zǐ xiù hóng xián míng yuè zhōng, zì dàn zì gǎn àn dīróng 。
xián níng zhǐ yān shēng tíng chǔ, bié yǒu shēn qíng yī wàn zhòng 。

Bai Juyi, Night Music ca. 818

Notes on Translation

The Tao is the mother of ten thousand things.

Laozi, Tao de Ching, verse one

夜筝, Yè zhēng, literally, night zither, zheng, is the general class of zithers, stringed instruments; a qin, having fewer strings than some zithers, is easier to play. 自弹自感 zì dàn zì gǎn (meaning, playing alone).

The rhyming words: Zheng (zither); zhōng (during, in the middle); dirong (bowing one’s head, looking down); zhòng (repeat). Yi wan, figuratively, innumerable, literally, ten thousand, a familiar term used by Laozi in the Tao de Ching. Laozi uses it to describe an unknowable number.


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