Saturday, April 07, 2012

Clouds over the Xiao and Xiang Rivers

'Clouds over the Xiao and Xiang Rivers' (Xiaoxiang Shuiyun) is one of the most famous qin melodies, composed at the end of the Song dynasty by Guo Mian (or Guo Chuwang, 'Chu-looking', because he travelled in the Chu region).  John Thompson's excellent site devoted to the guqin includes a sound sample and a translation of the music's original preface: 'the Emaciated Immortal says this piece was written by Mr. Chuwang, Guo Mian. Mr. Guo was from Yongjia. Whenever (while in Chu) he wanted to look at the Jiuyi mountains they were blocked by clouds above the Xiao and Xiang rivers, so he used (writing music about) this to express his loyalty to his country. However, this piece about water and clouds (also) has the suggestion of making one's own enjoyment; the flavor of cloud shapes reflected in sparkling water; and a desire to have wind and rain fall on the head, to wear a grass rain cape by the side of a river, and to use a boat on the Five Lakes (to hide from the world).'  The composition comes in ten sections, which can be compared to the Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang rivers that I described here a few years ago. 
1. Mist and rain over Dongting Lake
2. The Jiang and Han river scenery is broad and clear
3. Cloud images cast down by a brilliant sky
4. The sky and water join on the horizon
5. Waves roll and clouds fly
6. A wind comes up and stirs the water
7. Water and sky have the same azure colour
8. Cold river and cool moon
9. Limpid waves extend forever
10. (Evening) reflections contain all aspects of nature
Another surviving composition by Guo Mian is Fan Canglang ('Floating on the Canglang River') of which the Emaciated Immortal has this to say: 'Its topic is rowing a small boat in the five lakes, and casting aside rank and fame as if they were discarded mustard plants. (In the boat it feels as if you are) carrying the wind and moon and playing with the clouds and water; affairs of the world seem as insignificant as bubbles on the surface of the water, your Dao encompasses all of history, and your mind joins with the universe; its theme is like this.'  The three sections are (1) 'Mist and rain on the five lakes', (2) '(Treat) honor like mustard grass' and (3) 'Play with clouds and carry the moon in a boat.' John Thompson explains that the precise identity of this Canglang river is not clear, but the song probably refers to a poem by Qu Yuan called 'The Fisherman' in Chu Ci ('Songs of the South'). 'The unemployed and distraught Qu Yuan, wandering on a marshbank, comes across a fisherman to whom he speaks his grief. The fisherman then sings a Canglang Song, "When the water in the Canglang is clear, I can wash the tassels of my hat in it. / When the water in the Canglang is muddy, I can wash my feet in it." Without another word the fisherman then leaves Qu Yuan. The meaning of the poem is that when government is clean it is fine to work with it, but when it becomes dirty one should be happy to leave it.'

1 comment:

Florin Cosma said...

Excellent post, thanks to you I now discovered a little bit more about Chinese culture. I took the liberty to share on my facebook page, thoughts in perspective.

All the best, Florin