Friday, January 8, 2016

ancient air 40

ancient air #40

when hungry the fenghuang won’t peck millet
indeed he eats only cast off white jade—

how should he mix with such rabble as chickens
scrambling & fighting to get a single meal!

mornings on Kunlun he calls from a barrow tree
at dusk he drinks from the Mount Dizhu rapids

returning he follows far off routes over seas
& alone he spends the night in the frosty heavens

but as good luck has it, he runs into Wangzi Jin:
connects with the farthest green cloud fringe—

by his heart’s grace he’ll reach it at Mid-Autumn Fest
taking to the air in endless wonder

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Li Bai:
gǔ fēng sì shí

Grateful acknowledgement to Sheila Graham-Smith whose painstaking research was absolutely crucial to this poem, & who is smart enough to conceive of 長歎 as “endless wonder”.

  • Fenghuang is often translated as Phoenix or Chinese Phoenix. However, other than being mythical birds, the Fenghuang really has nothing in common with the Phoenix of Mediterranean myth—no cyle of fiery death & re-birth. Indeed, it’s thought that the Fenghuang is based on a real bird, the crested argus pheasant, or more strictly speaking the Rheinard's Crested Argus. Here’s a link to a minute & 30 second of a great argus calling & displaying. Remarkable! If I came across that bird in the wild I’d be convinced it was a mythic creature too. 
  • Wangzi Jin is a Daoist immortal, who is known for being able to imitate the call of the fenghuang on the sheng, or reed pipe. He is often depicted riding on either a fenghuang or a crane, whose call he is also said to imitate on the sheng. Wangzi Jin is more commonly known as Wangzi Qiao. 
  • Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the major holidays of the Chinese year, & has been so from ancient times to the present day. There are a number of myths associated with the holiday, & Sheila uncovered a lovely myth connecting two lovers, one an immortal, one a mortal, who both can play the song of the fenghuang on the flute & are transported to the celestial realm by a fenghuang at Mid-Autumn.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
"A Fenghuang or Chinese phoenix on the roof of the Main Hall of the Mengjia Longshan Temple in Taipei, Taiwan": photo by Wiki Commons user Bernard Gagnon who makes it available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license, as well as under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.

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