Table of ContentsA Bleak and Solemn Bugle Call in the Frontier – On the Pride of Fishermen by Fan Zhongyan
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The Masterpiece of a “Veteran Fox”
– Appreciating Wang Anshi’s Fragrance of Laurel Branch: In Memory of the Ancient Capital
Tune: Fragrance of Laurel Branch
In Memory of the Ancient Capital
I climb the height
And stretch my sight:
Late autumn just begins its gloomy time.
The ancient capital looks sublime.
The limpid river, beltlike, flows a thousand miles；
Emerald peaks on peaks tower in piles.
In the declining sun sails come and go；
Against west wind wineshop streamers flutter high and low.
The painted boat
In cloud afloat,
Like stars in Silver River egrets fly.
What a picture before the eye!
The days gone by
Saw people in opulence vie.
Alas! Shame on shame came under the walls,
In palace halls.
Leaning on rails, in vain I utter sighs
Over ancient kingdoms’ fall and rise.
The running water saw the Six Dynasties pass,
But I see only chilly mist and withered grass.
Even now and again
The songstresses still sing
The song composed in vain
By a captive king.
Fragrance of Laurel Branch: In Memory of the Ancient Capital is a famous work written by Wang Anshi in Jinling (Today’s Nanjing, Jiangsu province).
Among the 30-odd lyrics on Jinling composed simultaneously by his contemporary noted lyricists, Wang Anshi’s work is the uncontroversial No. 1. “Wang is really like a veteran fox,” Su Shi praised him sincerely, with great admiration to Wang’s talents showed in this lyric. It is well known that Wang was equally matched with Su in essays and poems, but less competent in lyrics. But, when this one appeared, Su showed great respect to Wang’s talent in lyrics. So, let’s find out the reason for that.
The lyric consists of two stanzas: the first one on the scenery of Jinling, and the second on the memories of and emotion to the ancient capital.
Jinling, the capital for six historical dynasties, had been a prosperous place in southern China. Autumn, as a bleak and chilly season, has been arousing sighs of scholars since ancient times in China. In the lyric, Wang started the first stanza with “I climb the height/And stretch my sight:/Late autumn just begins its gloomy time. /The ancient capital looks sublime” to indicate the time, place and his mood in the season. Next come “the limpid river, beltlike, flows a thousand miles” to describe the majesty of the Yangtze River, and “emerald peaks on peaks tower in piles” to delineate the static distant scenery. Then the lines “in the declining sun sails come and go； against west wind wineshop streamers flutter high and low” depict the dynamic nearby views. On the Qinhuai River there were painted boats, hustling and bustling at a dazzling night. The brilliant colors, the flying birds and the floating clouds are vivified in lines “the painted boat/In cloud afloat, / Like stars in Silver River egrets fly. /What a picture before the eye!” All these are views from “I climb the height/And stretch my sight.” The “declining sun” and “west wind” usher in the sighs in the second stanza.