Orchid and Orange, 2

wall-tangerine-2

Zhang Jiuling’s title for this poem 感 遇 (gǎn​ yù) means a sigh, a lament in gratitude for good fortune, and not, as it is given, Orchid and Orange. There is an orange tree in the poem and a peach and a plum, but no orchid, so go figure.

I cannot argue with a thousand years of tradition, but I think the title should be, Gratitude for Good Fortune. A few other notes can await a reading of Zhang’s poem.

Gratitude for Good Fortune, 2

Here, in Jiangnan, grows a red orange tree.
Through the winter its leaves are green,
Could it be the soil is warm?
Or perhaps because it has a heart that’s cold
Can you suggest my honorable guest
Why this is so profound?
One’s fate is only chance
And an endless circle is not what we should seek
It is to no avail, I say, to plant your peach tree or your plum
And forget these trees are hidden by the shade

Chinese and Pinyin

感遇(其二)

江南有丹橘,
经冬犹绿林

岂伊地气暖
自有岁寒心

可以荐嘉客,
奈何阻重深?

运命惟所遇,
循环不可寻

徒言树桃李,
此木岂无阴

Jiāngnán yǒu dān jú,
jīng dōng yóu lùlín

qǐ yī dì qì nuǎn?
Zì yǒu suì hánxīn

kěyǐ jiàn jiā kè,
nàihé zǔ zhòng shēn?

Yùn mìng wéi suǒ yù,
xúnhuán bùkě xún

tú yán shù táolǐ,
cǐ mù qǐ wú yīn

Notes

One wonders whether the orange, the peach and the plum are diminished or nourished by the taller trees.

Line one is beautifully phonetic, Jiāngnán yǒu dān jú, a slight play on words for, in Jiangnan, one is lucky and wealthy as the color red is a symbol of wealth. One cannot miss the phonetic similarity between the poet’s name Zhang Jiuling and Jiāngnán yǒu dān jú.

Zhang is lucky. Unfortunately, his luck would change and he would fall out of favor with the emperor. Alas, fate is only chance.

A couple of other points.

Line one states that the author is in Jiangnan. Literally, this is South of the River. In China it is a specific place name. The river is the mighty Yangtze and the place is Jiangnan, which includes several provinces and the city of Shanghai and Zhenjiang. Here the people are wealthy, the weather warm.

For the New Year, one plants an orange before your door. Recall, in Chinese, the word for orange, 橘 jú, sound like the word for luck 吉 jí. The plum and peach are also symbolic. The plum is winter’s friend, the peach a symbol of immortality, together they represent youth.

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To Minister Zhang While Gazing at Lake Dongting

Note. Minister Zhang Jiuling held several important posts under Emperor Xuanzong, including head of the imperial library, minister of public works, and commandant of various prefectures. The ancient reader of this poem, acquainted with the history of the imperial court, would know that Minister Zhang fell from favor with the emperor and was dismissed.

Thus, a brilliant master like Zhang could not always count on a life of ease.

Zhang was himself a noted poet. Five of his poems are included in the anthology of Three Hundred Tang Poems. See for instance Orchid and Orange I.

To Minister Zhang while gazing at Lake Dongting 

The lake is full in the eighth moon,
The water blends with the sky
The march mist rises in a cloud-like dream,
While waves pound against Yueyang’s walls
Alas, I have no boat with which to cross.
A brilliant master is shamed with a life of ease
Still I sit and watch an angler release his hook,
And envy those the fish they catch.

fog and mist and rolling waves

Notes on the Meng Haoran’s translation; or what is wisdom to a hungry sage?

August is a rainy month in most of China. Meng does not mention this, but it is also the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Yueyang (岳陽) is both a city and a prefecture located in Hunan province on the eastern shore of the Yangtze River bordering Dongting Lake in the south. Dongting Lake is a shallow flood basin whose size depends on the time of year. Yueyang Tower is a well known site, standing at the west gate of the Yueyang city wall, looking down at Dongting Lake, and linking the Yangtze River to the north with the Xiangjiang River to the south.

Line six, 聖明, may be translated as enlightened sage, august wisdom, and brilliant master, this last choice probably applies to Minister Zhang, the person Meng is addressing. Meng wrote at least three other poems in which the name Zhang appears. From the poem, To Zhang, Climbing Orchid Mountain on an Autumn Day, and other poems, we may conclude they shared fish and a drink or two.

Original Chinese and Pinyin

望洞庭湖贈張丞相

孟浩然

八月湖水平
涵虛混太清
氣蒸雲夢澤
波撼岳陽
欲濟無舟楫
端居恥聖明
坐觀垂釣者
徒有羨魚情

Wàng dòngtíng hú zèng zhāng chéngxiàng

Mèng Hàorán

bā yuè hú shuǐpíng
hán xū hùn tài qīng
qì zhēng yún mèng zé
bō hàn yuèyáng chéng
yù jì wú zhōují
duān jū chǐ shèngmíng
zuò guān chuídiào zhě
tú yǒu xiàn yú qíng

Other translations

I am intrigued by the wide variation in translations of Tang poetry. Here is a translation for comparison. There are others.

An English translation by E. C. Chang

lake china

Orchid and Orange 1

bamboo orchid

Zhang Jiuling 感 遇 其

Each flower blossoms in its season, each flower has its place. And so the hermit in the forest seeks nothing more than to be allured by sweet winds and contented with natural beauty.

ORCHID AND ORANGE I, by Zhang JIuling

A tender orchid-leaf in spring,
And a cinnamon-blossom bright in autumn
Are each as self-contained as life itself,
Which conforms them to a season.
Then why should you think that a forest-hermit,
Allured by sweet winds and contented with beauty,
Would no more ask to be transplanted
Than any other natural flower?

兰叶春葳蕤,
桂华秋皎洁

欣欣此生意,
自尔为佳节

谁知林栖者,
闻风坐相悦

草木有本心,
何求美人折

Lán yèchūnwēi ruí,
guì huá qiū jiǎojié
xīnxīn cǐ shēngyì,
zì ěr wèi jiājié
shéi zhī lín qī zhě,
wén fēng zuò xiāng yuè
cǎomù yǒu běn xīn,
hé qiú měirén zhé

Thoughts on Orchid and Orange, I

One must begin with the caveat that all translations are inherently suspect, including this one.

I begin with the poem’s title, Orchid and Orange.

Zhang Jiuling’s actual title is 感 遇 其, which translates something like, “the sense (feeling) of it.” Orchid and Orange come from the first two lines of the poem and the beauty in assonance. 蘭 (Lán), the orchid, or precisely Cymbidium, a particular variety of orchid that is much prized and cultivated. 桂 (Gui), the Osmanthus, a bush or small tree, none variety of which has orange blossoms, but others are bright white.

Zhang Jiuling

Zhang Jiuling (678–740) was mentioned in several poems by Meng Haoran.  He was a member of the Chinese literati class, with its hierarchy and system of advancements, primarily by examination, but also by means of court favor. For purposes of the poem the literati should be compared with the ascetic Confucian hermits who were by definition loners living in the mountains and forests.

Zhang Jiuling was for a period commandant of the city of Guilin, famous for its fragrant flowering Osmanthus and as a destination for Buddhist monks in pursuit of enlightenment.

The phonetic similarity of Guilin and Jiuling is a fitting.

Losing Favor

Zhang was a chancellor and an out-spoken advisor to Emperor Xuanzong.

A question arose as to the fate of General An Lushan. Zhang favored execution. The emperor disagreed and eventually demoted Zhang from his post.Zhang retired from public life and died in 740.

After his death, General An Lushan rebelled, the emperor fled the capital to the mountains of Sichuan ,and passed the throne to his son. The new emperor, remembering Zhang’s warning, honored him posthumously.

orchid-orange

 

Osmanthus 桂 and Cymbidium 蘭

蘭 (Lán) is the Cymbidium, a large orchid that blossoms in spring in an array of colors, a symbol of the horticulturalist’s virtuosity and a dream to propagate.

蘭 葉 春 葳 蕤

Cymbidium verdant in spring is luxuriant with blooms

桂 (Gui) is the Osmanthus that blooms in August. It is a small tree or bush, cultivated in pots, a symbol of love and romance. Osmanthus is also known as sweet osmanthus, sweet olive, tea olive. Its tiny bright flowers range in color from white to orange. Gui has a double meaning, referring also to expensive or valued, and to a clan of former rulers. There is a well-known city called Guilin which means “fragrant forest”, referring to its many fragrant Osmanthus trees. Guilin was a destination for Buddhist monks.

桂 華 秋 皎 潔

Osmanthus flower in autumn blooms bright

 

So what do I come up with?

A cymbidium, so luxuriant in spring as the
Sweet olive which blossoms bright in autumn
Each as self-contained as life,
Which keeps to its season.
So why do you think that a forest-hermit,
Seduced by sweet winds and surrounded with beauty,
Would wish to be displaced
More so than any other forest-flower?

Can one truly get a sense of the feeling of nature? Would one who enjoys the forest and nature want to be transplanted to the city?

Will I come back to this? Or will I enjoy the beauty of the blossom and leave it at that? Some thoughts are ineffable.

Could it be the thought is nothing more than this:

Would you think that a forest-hermit, well-content with the beauty of his home, would favor less a natural setting than a forest-orchid?

And for fun let’s say it in French:

 Pense-tu qu’un ermite de forêt, bien content de la beauté de sa gîte, favoriserait moins un cadre naturel qu’une orchidée de forêt?