In Word of Honor, otherwise known as SHL 《山河令》, there have been many many MANY chinese poems quoted - kudos to the actors for delivering their lines so smoothly because these aren’t like your everyday speech at all - most of which I’ve never heard of!
Kong Rong’s 《临终诗》 ‘poem written before the end’ is the first of my Heard in SHL series, in which poems learnt through this drama are translated and explored. There will be no discussion of SHL here though - for that, please refer to What is the meaning of Tian Chuang 天窗 in which @tian-chuang discusses the interpretation of two key lines in this poem, also quoted and modified slightly in the drama, that are relevant to a certain organization within the story.
Some background on the poet and the circumstances under which he wrote his《临终诗》:
An official and writer who lived during the Eastern Han period, Kong Rong was the 20th generation descendant of Confucious.
// Sidetrack for Confucianism in the Han Dynasty & descendants of Kongzi (Confucius):
Through the interpretation of the scholar Dong Zhongshu, who lived during the Han dynasty from around 179 - 104 BCE, Confucianism became strongly linked to the cosmic framework of traditional Chinese thought (quote source). It was under the rule of Emperor Wu of Han, which spanned from 141 - 87 BC, that saw the rise of Confucianism as its principles were adopted into state philosophy and ethics in the empire.
However, even before that, in 195 BCE / 205BCE, when Emperor Gaozu of Han (Liu Bang) offered sacrifices at Kongzi’s temple in Qufu, Shandong, he granted the 8th direct descendant of Kongzi, Kong Teng the title of 奉祀君 or roughly Lord of Ceremonial Ritual. Thus beginning the practice of Emperors bestowing titles upon the descendants of Kongzi as a gesture of respect. Kong Teng later became Grand Tutor of the King of Changsha, and his great great grandson, Liu Ba, shared a similar role as the Grand Preceptor to Emperor Yuan of Han.
Sources are provided so you can explore yourself! Goodness knows how trapped in the link clicking loop I got, just reading up…
Sidetrack ends. //
But coming from a revered family is not everything. He was famous in his own right for his writing and poetry, and was honored as one of the Seven Masters of the Jian'an reign-period (196 - 220 CE).
Have you ever heard of that idiom 孔融让梨 / Kong Rong gave up the bigger pears? This is the same Kong Rong. It’s even ended up in the Three Character Classic, which had been used as an introductory text for children up until the 19th century (see paragraph 1, part 10).
According to Baidu, Kong Rong was also the sort of person that, even early in his career as an Assistant to the Minister over the Masses, would go in plainclothes to investigate corruption among officials and openly confront superiors who intended to sweep it all under the carpet. Years later, when there was a consensus among his peers in favour of the revival of amputation as punishment for crimes, he was able to convince them to give up the idea through an appeal to logic.
Those angered by his direct nature tended to think twice before offending him, because he was so highly respected.
Among them was Cao Cao - Grand Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty who kept a tight hold over state affairs with Emperor Xian installed as figurehead. In public and in private letters, Kong Rong would speak his mind, pointing out mistakes and wrongdoing where he saw them with his sharp tongue. He praised good habits and deeds as well, and ensured that word of them spread far and wide. He believed positive things should be adopted and negative deeds avoided. For this, the scholars loved him even more dearly.
Of course, he criticized many of Cao Cao’s actions, opposed his policies and was openly loyal to the Han Court. He also submitted a memorial advocating a “recommendation to emulate the policies of old regarding the 1000 li of land surrounding the capital: enfeoffed nobility may not own land within this area” which would have strengthened the power of the imperial family.
Cao Cao’s wariness and anger towards him culminated in a strong desire to ensure his death. Chief of Military Advisors, Lu Cui, hence accused Kong Rong of various crimes such as "plotting a rebellion", "slandering the imperial court" and "disrespecting court protocol". He was found guilty and executed in public along with his family.
Translation of 《临终诗》:
Keeping the background of its writing in mind, to me, the poem reads as quiet but passionate, both a reflection and defiant statement. If you were wondering whether it was written during his imprisonment while awaiting sentencing, you would be right!
To be clear, I don’t believe he ever plotted against Cao Cao - at least there were no records of him doing so - so it was likely his words which landed him in this. He was a person who habitually reflected and corrected his own mistakes, and so the first three lines are an acknowledgement of his faults and a warning to others.
言多令事败 | speak overmuch and it leads to failure
器漏苦不密 | a vessel which leaks suffers for its poor sealing
He had been very vocal in his opposition of Cao Cao, and did not keep his dislike of the man secret. Kong Rong was a social butterfly and fond of calling for gatherings with friends. He spoke openly of his opinions there, but realises now that that had been unwise.
河溃蚁孔端 | cause of a bursting dam may be traced to the boring of ants
山坏由猿穴 | a mountain’s collapse to the cave-nests of apes
And the accusations against him were really based on things he had said in the past. Easily overlooked and dismissed as small matters, but apparently just as easily used as punishable crimes if one had the mind to do so. Through these ‘small, innocuous matters’ he had made enemies, left weaknesses out in the open, and now they had come back to him in the most disastrous and final way possible.
The idiom of ‘ant nests burst dams’ or 堤溃蚁穴 originates from a line in Han Feizi’s twenty first chapter, 《喻老》 Illustrating Laozi’s Teachings, that goes roughly so, with units italicized (take with a pinch of salt please because I have no context):
qiānzhàng zhī dī, yǐ lóuyǐ zhī xué kuì; bǎi chǐ zhī shì, yǐ tū xì zhī yān fén
a dam of a thousand zhang may collapse from the boring of ants for their nests, a building of a hundred chi may be burned to ash from a spark in the narrowest crevice.
(There are apparently more political interpretations of this whole poem, by the way. I am choosing to ignore them as they are somewhat beyond me and I don’t want to mislead anyone.)
涓涓江汉流 | slow streams join the Yangtze and the Han River’s flow
天窗通冥室 | a window to the sky is the opening into a dark chamber
Continuing the analogy of small things combining for a far greater result - although… here the tone seems to have shifted from ‘what went wrong’ to ‘what should have been’.
Little streams 涓涓 flowing quietly, but gradually ever onwards, coming together to form a river like the Han River 汉江, which itself joins the Yangtze 长江 and rushing to join the sea. It reminds me of idioms like 细水长流 in the sense of ‘do something small, but keep at it continuously and great things can be accomplished’. Had he been more discrete, more could have been accomplished for his wish of seeing the return of power to the legitimate ruling house of the Han Dynasty. Like sunlight shining into a dark room, chasing away the shadows.
As a aside, the reason 江汉 | jiāng hàn instantly made me interpret it as those two particular rivers is because from the Book of Poetry 诗经, there is this... Greater Odes of the Kingdom - Jiang Han 《大雅·江汉》.
And of course, the skylight, or as I called it, the window to the sky, was an opening on the roof of the house that allowed light and wind to enter. A number of sites - in Chinese only, sorry - (development of the window) (the romantic window ~) I found while trying to get a suitable photo mention that in the beginning, there were two types of windows, ‘窗 / 囱’ on the roof or ‘牎’ on the walls.
So the skylight 天窗 is the way through (for light) 通 into the dark chamber/room 冥室, would be how this sentence can be interpreted as shown in the photo above. The association of the word 冥 | míng with the Buddhist afterlife and underworld likely came after Kong Rong’s time, as Buddhism had just been brought to the Han people during the Yongping era (58 -75 CE) under Emperor Ming of Han less than 80 years before his birth, and was not widely practiced even up to the Three Kingdoms period (220 - 280 CE).
The next four sentences are about the external factors that have led to this situation. Here, there is anger and disdain for those with ill-intentions who seek to bring down the just, and also for gossips adding fuel to the fire. There is also a lament for the fact that it is the nature of man that they cannot stand united.
谗邪害公正 | vilifiers and the wicked inflict harm on the just and fair
浮云翳白日 | clouds conceal the brilliant sun
Slander 谗 from the cunning and evil 邪 harms 害 the just and fair / the proper enforcement of justice 公正. He’s certainly not the first to fall to this and shall not be the last, but that overwhelming indignity and helplessness of being imprisoned and convicted on trumped-up charges will never lessen no matter how many times you have seen this. Especially when it happens to yourself. The clouds blot out the sun, like the villains who cloud the vision of their lords.
靡辞无忠诚 | fine words are spoken without loyalty or sincerity
华繁竟不实 | like marvelous blossoms that do not bear fruit
How do they do that? With their deceptively flowery flattery, so easy on the ears, but none of it truly meant.
人有两三心 | man is often of two minds, their hearts split in three
安能合为一 | how can they unite?
And with such people around, you can never be sure of who they may be. One might be acquainted with a person, know them by what they show on the surface, but who can know for sure what they are thinking? Everyone has their own intentions and that makes it impossible to unite.
三人成市虎 | three gossipers can make rumored tigers in the city truth
浸渍解胶漆 | even glue dissolves when soaked long enough.
The line 三人成市虎 is a reference to an alleged speech by an official of the state of Wei in the Warring States period (475 BC – 221 BC), recorded in Annals of the Warring States. It has since become the proverb, 三人成虎 - three men make a tiger, which refers to the idea that if an unfounded premise repeated by many individuals, the premise will be erroneously accepted as the truth. Glue may be used to ensure things are stuck tightly together, but once they are soaked for long enough, they will inevitably loosen.
So these untruths may be unsupported, but repeated often and long enough, they can cause irreversible harm to even the strongest person.
生存多所虑 | to live, to survive, there is much to consider and worry over
长寝万事毕 | only in eternal sleep will all of these myriad troubles cease
This may sound like he has accepted his fate, but has he really? His rage, resentment, helplessness and exhaustion have reached their peak. ‘Living in a world like this? Might as well be dead’, he says.
And these are his last words.
#临终诗#孔融 #heard in shl #poems #i wanted to just translate and briefly explain #but joke's on me i guess #i do so love doing this though #even if i cry on twitter a lot #there's like only ONE picture hahaahhaha #and a wall of text #sorry not sorry #i had fun xD
A speckle of dust
Flies in his face
Defeating a smile
A wail of wind
Blows by his mind
Distracting a thought
Where frustration resides
A feast or a famine
Flooding rains or dry earth
Food thrown in the bin
A lone man is diving
Cherish the lentils
The taste on the tongue
A tree falls in the night
The lone man is surviving
Time comes to visit
Warp speed falls…