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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Introductory to Chinese Empire

Chinese Songs

By Richard Henry Stoddard (1825–1903)

UP in an old pagoda’s highest tower

I sat, and watched the falling shades of eve.

Long curls of smoke, and sounds of distant lutes

As faint as smoke, spread through the lonely wood.

The evening wind blew over the cool stream,

Troubling the pallid pin-flowers on its bank;

And where the autumnal hills were thickly strewn

With faded, fallen leaves, the hoar-frost fell.

Naught could I see in all that cloudless sky,

Except the wild goose flying to the South.

Hearkening in bright moonshine I heard the sound

Of distant villagers beating out their rice.

Then, thinking of the friend, whose absent face,

The long year through, not once has brightened mine,

I sought the window shaded o’er with pines,

And struck the strings of my melodious lute.

WHAT time my husband went to banishment,

I followed to the foot of yonder bridge;

I bore my grief, but could not say, “Farewell!”

Ah! why have you not written me, my love?

Our couch, remember, even in spring is cold.

The staircase that you built has crumbled down,

And dust has soiled the windows, and white curtains.

My mind is sore perplexed; I would I were

The shadow of the moon upon the sea,—

The cloud that floats above the lofty hills.

The careless clouds behold my husband’s face,

And she, the sea-moon, in her monthly round;—

They know the man a thousand leagues away.

The tall green rushes by the river’s side

Have faded, since we parted; but the plum—

Who would have thought before we met again

The plum-tree would have blossomed, o’er and o’er?

The flowers unfold themselves to meet the spring;

Our hearts unfold in vain, no spring is ours.

My thoughts are busied so with your return

The willow at the door droops to the ground,

And no one sweeps away its fallen leaves.

The grass before the house grows thick and rank;

My husband’s flute hangs idly in the hall;

He sings no more the songs of Keang-nan.

Because no letter comes to me, my lord,

My silver dress, that on my pillow lies,

Is dyed with tears, and tears have spoiled the flowers

Broidered in gold upon my satin robe.

Thrice have I heard in spring the wild-fowl’s cry,

Crossing the swollen stream. I sing old songs;

My heart-strings seem to break upon the lute;

I faint with love and grief; grief ends my song.

Forget not, O my lord, your own true wife,

Your wife, whose love is firmer than the hills,

Whose thoughts are filled with you. She weaves this song

To win the gracious ear of Majesty.

O Son of Heaven! let him return, and soon!

MOULAN is weaving at her cottage door.

You cannot hear the weaving shuttles fly,

You only hear the young girl sigh and moan.

“What are you thinking of? why do you moan?”

The young girl thinks of nothing, yet she moans.

“I saw the army record yesterday;

The Emperor is levying troops again;

The book has twelve long chapters, and in each

I saw enrolled my honored father’s name.

“What can be done to save the poor old man?

Thou hast no grandson, father; no, not one.

Thou hast no elder brother, O Moulan!

What shall I do? I will arise, and go,

And buy a horse and saddle. I will go,

And serve and fight in my dear father’s stead.”

She buys a swift horse at the eastern market,—

A saddle and a horse-cloth at the western,

And at the southern a long horseman’s whip.

When morning comes she smiles and says, “Farewell,

Father and mother.” She will pass the night

Beside the Yellow River. She hears no more

Father or mother calling for their child;

The hollow murmur of the Yellow River

Is all she hears. Another morning comes;

She starts again, and bids the stream farewell.

She journeys on, and when the evening comes

She reaches the Black River.” She hears no more

Father or mother sighing for their child;

She hears the savage horsemen of Yen Shen.

“Where have you been, Moulan, these twelve long years?”

“We marched and fought our way ten thousand miles.

Swift as a bird I cleared the gulfs and hills.

The north-wind brought the night bell to my ear;

The moonlight fell upon my iron mail.

“Twelve years are passed. We meet the Emperor

When we return; he sits upon his throne.

He gives this man a badge of honor, that

An hundred or a thousand silver ounces.

‘And what shall he give me?’ And I reply:

‘Nor wealth, nor office; only lend Moulan—

She asks no more—a camel, fleet of foot,

To lead her to her honored father’s roof.’”

Soon as the father and the mother learn

Moulan’s return, they haste to meet their child;

Soon as the younger sisters see them go,

They leave the chamber in their best attire;

Soon as the brave young brother hears the news,

He straightway whets a knife to kill a sheep.

“My mother takes my warrior’s armor off,

And clothes me in my woman’s garb again:

My younger sisters, standing by the door,

Are twining golden flowers in their hair.”

Then Moulan left the room, and went to meet

Her fellow-soldiers, who were much amazed;—

For twelve long years she marched and fought with them,

And yet they guessed not Moulan was a girl.

WE started when the clarion of the cock

Was ceasing, and the first thin curl of smoke

Rose from the village; not a withered leaf

Waved in the frozen forest, and no bird

Sang there, but flocks were lighting on the plain:

In vain they pecked for food, the barren plain

Bore naught but rotten grass; frost hid the roots;

So back they hastened to their empty nests.

The gray-haired village farmer, up at dawn

To fondle his grandchildren, hears the shout,

“A Mandarin is passing!” Staff in hand

He gazes, leaning on his matted door.

West of his house we see great stacks of straw,

And in the east the golden beams of day;

His thick warm garments, and his ruddy face,

Are signs of plenty, and, I shrewdly guess,

That somewhere in his house could still be found

One measure more of rice, stowed in the bin.

MILLIONS of flowers are blowing in the fields;—

On the blue river’s brink the peony

Burns red, and where doves coo the lute is heard,

And hoarse black crows caw to the eastern wind.

Under the plane-tree in the shaded grove,

Screened from the light and heat, the idler sits,

Brooding above his chess-board all day long

Nor marks, so deep his dream, how fast the sun

Descends at evening to its western house.

When autumn comes men close their doors and read,

Or at the window loll to catch the breeze

Freighted with fragrance from the cinnamon.

The snow is falling on the balustrade,

Like dying petals, and the icicle

Hangs like a gem; all crowd around the fire:

Rich men now drink their wine with merry hearts,

And sing old songs, nor heed the blast without.


EAST, or west, to the pastures,

We lead our herds at ease;

Having no master to goad us,

We spend the time as we please.

In the green bamboos together

We cut our reeds, and play;

Or sit in the long grass patching

Our cloaks for a rainy day.

Or twist the ropes of the heifers,

And make them stout and long,—

Tuning our merry voices

To sing the herdsman’s song.

We point at the restless miser,

And laugh in his face with glee:

“Your legs are mighty travellers!

What can the matter be?

“Ride who will on horseback,

The cow is sure and strong.”

Thus, by the springs in the coppice,

We sing the herdsman’s song.


BEFORE the scream o’ the hawk

The timid swallow flies;

And the lake unrolled in the distance

Like a silver carpet lies!

The light that sleeps i’ the air

Like the breath of flowers is sweet;

The very dust is balmy

Under the horses’ feet!

We sit in the tennis court,

Where the beautiful sunlight falls;

The mountains crossed by bridges

Come down to the city walls.

The houses are hid in flowers,

Buried in bloomy trees;

But under the veils of the willows

Are glimpses of cottages.

What makes the wind so sweet?

Is it the breath of June?

’T is the jasper flute in the pear-tree,

Playing a silent tune!

THE DARK and rainy weather

That now has ta’en its flight

Has made the sunshine brighter,

And filled our hearts with light.

The groves are full of song-birds,

And troops of butterflies

Are hovering o’er the peach-trees,

Like blossoms of the skies.

The flowers that have not faded,

But to the boughs still cling,

Are hanging every garden

With tapestries of spring.

And see, the happy students

Have met by scores to dine

Beneath the willow branches,

And drain the cups of wine!


THE GROVE is crowned with hoar-frost,

And clothed in robes of snow;

But buds of tender purple

On all the branches blow.

They rain upon the river,

As winds go sweeping by,

Redden the waves a moment,

And then, like torches, die!

At the foot of yonder gallery

I see a beauteous girl;

She has a thousand garments

Of satin and of pearl!

The blossoms blush to meet her;—

It is the maiden Spring,

For hark! among the branches

I hear the cuckoo sing!

I HEAR the sacred swan

In its river island sing;

I see the modest maiden,

A consort for a king!

The tendrils of the Hang

Are green and white below,

Along the running waters

Swaying to and fro.

The king has sought the maid,

His passion is so strong:

And day and night he murmurs,

“How long, alas! how long!”

He turns him on his bed,

He tosses in his woe;

His thoughts are like the Hang plants,

Swaying to and fro!

Again I hear the swan

In a palace garden sing;

Again I see the maiden,

The consort of the king.

The king is happy now,

For see! the maiden comes,

And hark! the bells are ringing,

And hark! the noise of drums!