More Translations from the Chinese, by Arthur Waley, , at sacred-texts.com
When Lo-t‘ien 1 was old, he fell ill of a palsy. So he made a list of his possessions and examined his expenses, that he might reject whatever had become superfluous. He had in his employ a girl about twenty years old called Fan Su, whose postures delighted him when she sang or danced. But above all she excelled in singing the "Willow-Branch," so that many called her by the name of this song, and she was well known by this name in the town of Lo-yang. But she was on the list of unnecessary expenses and was to be sent away.
He had too a white horse with black mane, sturdy and sure-footed, which he had ridden for many years. It stood on the list of things which could be dispensed with, and was to be sold. When the groom led the horse through the gate, it tossed its head and looked back, neighing once with a sound in its voice that seemed to say : "I know I am leaving you and long to stay." Su, when she heard the horse neigh, rose timidly, bowed before me and spoke sweetly, as shall hereafter be shown. When she had done speaking her tears fell.
When first I heard Su's words, I was too sad to speak and could not answer her. But in a little while I ordered the bridle to be turned and the sleeve reversed. 1 Then I gave her wine and drank a cup myself, and in my happiness sang
a few score notes. And these notes turned into a poem, a poem without fixed measure, for the measure followed my irregular tune. In all there were 255 words.
Alas! I am no Sage. I could neither forget past feelings nor show such sensibility as this beast reputed incapable of feeling! Things that happen lay hold of my heart, and when my heart is moved, I cannot control it. Therefore, smiling at myself, I called this song "A Song of Past Feelings Unforgotten."
The Song says:
I was selling my white horse
And sending Willow Branch away.
She covered her dark eyebrows;
He trailed his golden halter.
The horse, for want of speech,
Neighed long and turned his head;
And Willow Branch, twice bowing,
Knelt long and spoke to me:
"Master, you have ridden this horse five years,
One thousand eight hundred days;
Meekly he has borne the bit,
Without shying, without bolting.
And I have served you for ten years,
Three thousand and six hundred days;
Patient carrier of towel and comb, 2
Without complaint, without loss.
And now, though my shape is lowly,
I am still fresh and strong.
And the colt is still in his prime,
Without lameness or fault.
Why should you not use the colt's strength
To replace your sick legs?
Why should you not use my song to gladden your casual
Need you in one morning send both away,
Send them away never to return?
This is what Su would say to you before she goes,
And this is what your horse meant also
When he neighed at the gate.
Seeing my distress, who am a woman,
And hearing its cries, that is but a horse,
Shall our master alone remain pitiless?"
I looked up and sighed: I looked down and laughed. Then I said:
"Dear horse, stop your sad cries!
Sweet Su, dry your bitter tears!
For you shall go back to your stall;
And you to the women's room.
For though I am ill indeed,
And though my years are at their close,
The doom of Hsiang Chi 3 has not befallen me yet.
Must I in a single day
Lose the horse I rode and the lady I loved?
Su, O Su!
Sing once again the Song of the Willow Branch!
And I will pour you wine in that golden cup
And take you with me to the Land of Drunkenness."
94:1 I.e., Po Chü-i himself.
95:2 I.e., performing the functions of a wife.
96:3 Who, surrounded at the battle of Kai-hsia (202 B. C.), gave his horse to a boatman, lest it should fall into the hands of the enemy.