These past few days I have beenexceedingly restless. This evening, as I sat in my courtyard enjoying the coolnight air, I suddenly thought of the lotus pond along which I was used totaking daily walks, and I imagined that it must look quite different under thelight of this full moon. Slowly the moon climbed in the sky, and beyond thewall the laughter of children playing on the road could no longer be heard. Mywife was inside patting Run’er* as she hummed a faint lullaby. I gently threw awrap over my shoulders and walked out, closing the gate behind me.
Bordering the pond is a meanderinglittle cinder path. It is a secluded path; during the day few people use it,and at night it is even lonelier. There are great numbers of trees growing onall sides of the lotus pond, lush and fertile. On one side of the path thereare some willow trees and several varieties of trees whose names I do not know.On moonless nights this path is dark and forbidding, giving one an eeriefeeling. But this evening it was quite nice, even though the rays of the moonwere pale. Finding myself alone on the path, I folded my hands behind me andstrolled along. The stretch of land and sky that spread out before me seemed tobelong to me, and I could transcend my own experience and enter another world.I love noise, but I also love quiet; I love crowds, but I also love seclusion.On a night like tonight, all alone under this vast expanse of moonlight, I canthink whatever I wish, or think of nothing if I wish. I feel myself to be atruly free man. The things I must do and the words I must say during thedaytime I need not concern myself with now; this is an exquisite secluded spot,a place where I can enjoy the limitless fragrance of the lotuses and the lightof the moon.
On the surface of the winding andtwisting lotus pond floated an immense field of leaves. The leaves lay high inthe water, rising up like the skirts of a dancing girl. Amid the layers ofleaves white blossoms adorned the vista, some beguilingly open and othersbashfully holding their petals in. Just like a string of bright pearls or starsin a blue sky, or like lovely maidens just emerging from their bath. A gentlebreeze floated by, bringing with it waves of a crisp fragrance like strains ofa vague melody sent over from distant towering buildings. When that happened,the leaves and blossoms trembled briefly, as though a bolt of lightning hadstreaked across the lotus pond. The leaves themselves were densely crowdedtogether, pushing back and forth, and they seemed to be a cresting wave ofsolid green. Beneath the leaves restrained currents of water flowed, imprisonedbeneath them, the color forever hidden, while the stirrings of the leaves wereeven more pronounced.
The moon’s rays were like flowingwaters, gently depositing their moisture on the layer of leaves and blossoms. Alight green mist floated just above the lotus pond. The leaves and blossomslooked as though they had been bathed in milk, or like a blurred dream swathedin airy gauze. Although the moon was full, a light covering of clouds in thesky prevented it from shining brightly; yet I had the pleasant feeling that Ihad come to a fine spot. For just as one cannot do without deep slumber, stilla light sleep has its own delights. The moon’s rays filtered down through thetrees, and dark, uneven shadows of varying shades were cast by the densefoliage on the high ground, perilously dark and spooky. The bewitching shadowscast by the sparse, twisted willow trees seemed to be painted on the lotusleaves. The moonlight on the pond was spread unevenly, but the rays and theshadows were a concert of harmony, like a celebrated tune played on a violin.
On all sides of the lotus pond, farand near, on high ground and low, there are trees, most of them willows. Thesetrees completely envelop the whole of the lotus pond; only by the side of thepath are there gaps, here and there showing through, seemingly left there justso the moon can shine in. The colors of the trees are uniformly dark. At firstglance, they resemble a bank of fog and mist, but the slender, graceful formsof the willows can still be distinguished in that fog and mist. Above thetreetops a row of mountains can be seen ever so indistinctly, just the hint oftheir shapes, while one or two faint glimmers of roadside lamps seep throughthe openings of the branches, appearing like the weary eyes of a tired man. Nowthe spot was at its noisiest, if you count the chirping of cicadas in the treesand the croaking of frogs in the water. But the noise was theirs alone; I addednothing to it.
All of a sudden, I was reminded oflotus gathering. The gathering of lotuses is an old custom south of theYangtze, whose origins probably date from very early on but that flourishedduring the Six Dynasty period. This we know from the poems and ballads of thetime. The lotus gatherers were young maidens who drifted in small boats andsang their songs of love. It goes without saying that there were great numbersof lotus gatherers as well as those who came to watch them, for that was afestive and a romantic occasion. “The Lotus Gatherers” by Emperor Yuan of theLiang Dynasty tells it well:
Princely lads and alluring maidens
Adrift in a boat, their hearts inaccord;
The boat’s prow describes a slowturn
As they exchange wine cups;
The oars become intertwined,
And the boat moves across the floatingduckweed;
The maidens with their slenderwaists simply bound
Cast glances behind them.
Summer begins where the springleaves off;
The leaves are tender, the flowersin bloom.
Protecting their dresses from thedampness, smiles adorning their faces,
They gather up their skirts, takingcare not to capsize the boat.
This paints for us a picture of thepleasant excursions of those days. They must have been truly memorable events; itis a pity that we can no longer enjoy such pastimes.
I then recalled the lines from
“Tune of the West Isle”.
Gathering lotuses at Nantang in thefall,
The lotus blossoms rise above ourheads.
Bending over to pluck the lotusseeds,
Lotus seeds as transparent as thewater.
If tonight there were lotusgatherers, the lotus blossoms here too would “rise above their heads.” But itis not enough to have before me only these rippling shadows. All of thisstirred up in me a sense of longing for the South. With these thoughts in mymind, I suddenly raised my head and found that my steps had carried me to myown gate; I softly pushed it open and entered. I was greeted by completesilence; my wife had long since fallen fast asleep.
* The name of one of the author’schildren.