We must suppose the ladies of a harem, in one of the states of the south, admiring and praising in these simple stanzas the way in which their mistress discharged her duties. A view of the ode maintained by many is that the lady gathered the southernwood, not to use it in sacrificing, but in the nurture, of the silkworms under her care; but the evidence of the characters in the text is, on the whole, in favour of the more common view. Constant reference is made to the piece by Chinese moralists, to show that the most trivial things are accepted in sacrifice, when there are reverence and sincerity in the presenting of them.
One critic asked Kû Hsî whether it was conceivable that the wife of a prince did herself what is here related, and he replied that the poet said so. Another has observed that if the lady ordered and employed others, it was still her own doing. But that the lady did it herself is not incredible, when we consider the simplicity of those early times, in the twelfth century B.C.
She gathers the white southernwood, By the ponds, on the islets. She employs it, In the business of our prince.
She gathers the white southernwood, Along the streams in the valleys. She employs it, In the temple 1 of our prince.
With head-dress reverently rising aloft, Early, while yet it is night, she is in the prince's (temple). In her head-dress, slowly retiring, She returns (to her own apartments).
431:1 If the character here translated 'temple' had no other signification but that, there would-be an end of the dispute about the meaning of the piece. But while we find it often used of the ancestral temple, it may also mean any building, especially one of a large and public character, such as a palace or. mansion; and hence some contend that it should be interpreted here of 'the silkworm house.' We are to conceive of the lady, after, having gathered the materials for sacrificial use, then preparing them according to rule, and while it is yet dark on the morning of the sacrificial day, going with them into the temple, and setting them forth in their proper vessels and places.