King Hsüan does not occur by name in the ode, though the remarkable prayer which it relates is ascribed to a king in stanza 1. All critics have admitted the statement of the Preface that the piece was made, in admiration of king Hsüan, by Zăng Shû, a great officer, we may presume, of the court. The standard chronology places the commencement of the drought in B.C. 822, the sixth year of Hsüan's reign. How long it continued we cannot tell.
Bright was the milky way, Shining and revolving in the sky. The king said, 'Oh! What crime is chargeable on us now, That Heaven (thus) sends down death and disorder? Famine comes again and again. There is no spirit I have not sacrificed to 2; There is no victim I have grudged; Our
jade symbols, oblong and round, are exhausted 1;--How is it that I am not heard?
'The drought is excessive; Its fervours become more and more tormenting. I have not ceased offering pure sacrifices; From the border altars I have gone to the ancestral temple 2. To the (Powers) above and below I have presented my offerings and then' buried them 3;--There is no spirit whom I have not honoured. Hâu-kî is not equal to the occasion; God does not come to us. This wasting and ruin of our country,--Would that it fell (only) on me!
'The drought is excessive, And I may not try to excuse myself. I am full of terror, and feel the peril, Like the clap of thunder or the roll. Of the remnant of Kâu, among the black-haired people, There will not be half a man left; Nor will God from his great heaven exempt (even) me. Shall
we not mingle our fears together? (The sacrifices to) my ancestors will be extinguished 1.
'The drought is excessive, And it cannot be stopped. More fierce and fiery, It is leaving me no place. My end is near;--I have none to look up, none to look round, to. The many dukes and their ministers of the past 2 Give me no help. O ye parents and (nearer) ancestors 3, How can ye bear to see me thus?
'The drought is excessive;--Parched are the hills, and the streams are dried. The demon of drought exercises his oppression, As if scattering flames and fire 4 My heart is terrified with the heat;--My sorrowing heart is as if on fire. The
many dukes and their ministers of the past Do not hear me. O God, from thy great heaven, Grant me the liberty to withdraw (into retirement 1).
'The drought is excessive;--I struggle and fear to go away. How is it that I am afflicted with this drought? I cannot ascertain the cause of it. In praying for a good year I was abundantly early 2. I was not late (in sacrificing) to (the spirits of) the four quarters and of the land 3. God in great heaven Does not consider me. Reverent to the intelligent spirits, I ought not to be thus the object of their anger.
'The drought is excessive;--All is dispersion, and the bonds of government are relaxed. Reduced to extremities are the heads of departments; Full of distress are my chief ministers, The Master of the Horse, the Commander of the Guards, The chief Cook 4, and my attendants. There is no one who has not (tried to) help (the people); They have not refrained on the ground of being unable. I look up to the great heaven;--Why am I plunged in this sorrow?
'I look up to the great heaven, But its stars sparkle bright. My great officers and excellent men, Ye have reverently drawn near (to Heaven) with all
your powers. Death is approaching, But do not cast away what you have done. You are seeking not for me only, But to give rest to all our departments. I look up to the great heaven;--When shall I be favoured with repose?'
419:2 In the Official Book of Kâu, among the duties of the Minister of Instruction, or, as Biot translates the title, 'the Director of the Multitudes,' it is stated that one of the things he has to do, on occurrences of famine, is 'to seek out the spirits,' that is, as explained by the commentators, to see that sacrifices are offered to all the spirits, even such as may have been discontinued. This rule had, no doubt, been acted on during the drought which this ode describes.
420:1 We have, in the sixth Book of the fifth Part of the Shû, an instance of the use of the symbols here mentioned in sacrificing to the spirits of departed kings. The Official Book, among the duties of the Minister of Religion, mentions the use of these and other symbols--in all six, of different shapes and colours--at the different sacrifices.
420:2 By 'the border altars' we are to understand the altars in the suburbs of the capital, where Heaven and Earth were sacrificed to the great services at the solstices, and any other seasons. The mention of Hâu-kî in the seventh line makes us think especially of the service in the spring, to pray for a good year, when Hâu-kî was associated with God.
420:3 'The (Powers) above and below' are Heaven and Earth. The offerings, during the progress of the service, were placed on the ground, or on the altars, and buried in the earth at the close of it. This explains what the king says in the first stanza about the offerings of jade being exhausted.
421:1 Equivalent to the extinction of the dynasty.
421:2 The king had sacrificed to all the early lords of Kâu. 'The many dukes' may comprehend kings Thâi and Kî. He had also sacrificed to their ministers. Compare what Pan-kăng says in the Shû, p. 109, about his predecessors and their ministers. Some take 'the many dukes, and the ministers,' of all princes of states who had signalised themselves by services to the people and kingdom.
421:3 The king could hardly hope that his father, the oppressive Lî, would in his spirit-state give him any aid; but we need only find in his words the expression of natural feeling. Probably it was the consideration of the character of Lî which has made some critics understand by 'parents' and 'ancestors' the same individuals, namely, kings Wăn and Wû, 'the ancestors' of Hsüan, and who had truly been 'the parents' of the people.
421:4 Khung Ying-tâ, from 'the Book of Spirits and Marvels,' gives the following account of 'the demon of drought:'--'In the southern regions there is a man, two or three cubits in height, with the upper part of his body bare, and his eyes in the top of his head. He runs with the speed of the wind, and is named Po. In whatever state he appears, there ensues a great drought.' The Book of Spirits and Marvels, however, as it now exists, cannot be older, than our fourth or fifth century.
422:1 That is, to withdraw and give place to a more worthy sovereign.
422:2 This was the border sacrifice to God, when Hâu-kî was associated with him. Some critics add a sacrifice in the first month of winter, for a blessing on the ensuing year, offered to 'the honoured ones of heaven,'--the sun, moon, and zodiacal constellations.
422:3 See note 2 on p. 371.
422:4 See note 1 on p. 356.