Plain Text Transmissions

Pipa Song

During the Tenth Year of Yuan He’s reign I was demoted to chief martial officer of Jiujiang Prefecture. One night that following autumn I escorted a guest to the Penfu river and heard the sound of a  pipa wafting over from the docks.  The tune was in the imperial style.  Asking around, I discovered the musician was a lady entertainer from Chang’an who had studied Pipa under the masters Mu and Cao.  With years her beauty passed, so she settled and married a trader. I ordered wine be presented and asked her to play a few tunes.  

 

 

After her playing finished, her expression fell and she recounted the happiness of her youth.  Now thin and sallow, she drifts without purpose through these lowlands. 

 

 

In the two years since I lost my title I’ve lived a carefree and content life.  This night, though, her words touched me and I finally understood what losing my position felt like.  I was grateful and wrote her a song.  It totals six hundred and sixteen words and is called The Song of the Pipa:

 

Sending a guest to Xunyang River at night   

autumn wind brushes reeds and maple leaves.  

We dismount horses and board our boat  

no music as we raise our cups to drink.  

Drinking with parting on mind is joyless   

this vast river’s surface soaked in moonlight.  

A pipa sings unexpectedly over the water  

and we both forget we were parting.  

  

Seeking its source we quietly ask who plays  

the music stops but she does not answer.  

We paddle closer and ask to meet her  

again lighting lamps and setting out wine.  

She appears after a thousand entreaties  

shielding her face with pipa held tight.   

She twists its neck and tunes its strings  

her feelings emanate before playing one note.  

Each plucked string weighty each note heavy  

telling the story of her unfortunate life.  

With brow lowered adept hands play  

and share the infinite complexities she knows.  

Left hand light her right moves up and down  

playing first Ni’shang followed by Lu’yao.  

The thick strings fall like torrential rain  

the thin strings sound like quiet secrets.  

Low and high pitches jumble together  

large and small pearls fall on a jade plate.  

At times an oriole chirping under flowers  

other times spring water whimpering under ice.  

The water freezes and the strings ossify  

the sound halts unable to pass through.  

Bitterness and gloom exposed from within  

right now silence is victor over sound.  

Like liquid bursting from a broken bottle  

or armed warriors jumping from ambush screeching.  

The song ends with one powerful strum  

the four strings sound like silk ripping.  

No one speaks in surrounding boats  

with autumn moon shining bright upon river.  

  

She put down her pick and turned serious   

then fixed her clothes and sighed.  

  

  

She offered:   

“I’m from the capital and grew up near Ha’ma Hill,  

I had mastered the pipa at 13  

with the Ministry of Music calling me preeminent.  

A song finished and pipa masters sat amazed  

with makeup I made every girl jealous.  

Young men competed to give me gifts  

and countless were the silks I received.  

Jewel-encrusted combs broke marking time  

toppled cups of wine stained crimson dress.  

In those years I lived happily,   

enjoying leisurely autumn moons and spring winds.”  

  

“Then my brother enlisted and aunt died  

days and nights passed and I grew old.  

My doorstep was void of guests  

and being old I married a merchant.  

He cares only for money and travels often  

just last month he left for Fu’liang’s tea.  

I’m left drifting to guard empty boat   

accompanied only by the moon’s cold reflection.  

When it’s dark I dream of the past  

and wake with tears tarnishing makeup.”  

  

I sighed when her pipa sung  

and sighed again hearing her words.  

We’re both wanders at the ends of earth  

we need not meet to know each other.  

Since I was demoted to Xun’yang last year  

I’ve left the capital but stayed in bed.  

It’s remote here and there’s no music  

I haven’t heard the flute or pipa this year.  

In the low and humid banks of Pen River  

reeds and bamboo encircle my home.  

What do I hear between dawn and dusk?   

Only cuckoo’s shrieks and gibbon’s cries.  

In waterlily spring and moonlit autumn nights  

I often enjoy wine all alone.  

Where are the folk songs and flutes?   

Why only racket that pierces the ear?  

Hearing my lady’s pipa sing tonight  

is lightening my ears with blessed music.  

Please sit and play one more  

I’ll write a verse for you if you stay.  

  

  

Hearing my words she stood a minute  

then sat and with energy played.  

Now it was different and infused with sorrow,  

everyone who listened was hiding their tears.  

Who in the audience cried the most?   

The chief martial officer’s green shirt soaked.  

 

琵琶行

元和十年,予左遷九江郡司馬。明年秋,送客湓浦口。聞舟船中夜彈琵琶者,聽其音,錚錚然,有京都聲。

問其人,本長安倡女,嘗學琵琶於穆曹二善才。年長色衰,委身為賈人婦。遂命酒,使快彈數曲。

曲罷,憫然自敘少小時歡樂事;今漂淪憔悴,轉徙於江湖間。

余出官二年,恬然自安,感斯人言,是夕始學有遷謫意,因為長句,歌以贈之。

凡六百一十六言,命曰:「琵琶行。」

 

潯陽江頭夜送客,楓葉荻花秋瑟瑟。  

主人下馬客在船,舉酒欲飲無管弦;  

醉不成歡慘將別,別時茫茫江浸月。  

忽聞水上琵琶聲,主人忘歸客不發。  

  

  

  

尋聲暗問彈者誰?琵琶聲停欲語遲。  

移船相近邀相見,添酒回燈重開宴。  

千呼萬喚始出來,猶抱琵琶半遮面。  

轉軸撥弦三兩聲,未成曲調先有情:  

弦弦掩抑聲聲思,似訴平生不得志。  

低眉信手續續彈,說盡心中無限事,  

輕攏慢撚抹復挑,初為霓裳後綠腰。  

大弦嘈嘈如急雨,小弦切切如私語,  

嘈嘈切切錯雜彈,大珠小珠落玉盤。  

間關鶯語花底滑,幽咽泉流水下灘;  

水泉冷澀弦凝絕,凝結不通聲暫歇。  

別有幽愁暗恨生,此時無聲勝有聲。  

銀瓶乍破水漿迸,鐵騎突出刀槍鳴。  

曲終收撥當心畫,四弦一聲如裂帛。  

東船西舫悄無言,唯見江心秋月白。  

  

沈吟放撥插弦中,整頓衣裳起斂容。  

自言:「本是京城女,家在蝦蟆陵下住,  

十三學得琵琶成,名屬教坊第一部。  

曲罷曾教善才伏,妝成每被秋娘妒;  

五陵年少爭纏頭,一曲紅綃不知數;  

鈿頭雲篦擊節碎,血色羅裙翻酒污。  

今年歡笑復明年,秋月春風等閒度。  

弟走從軍阿姨死,暮去朝來顏色故。  

門前冷落車馬稀,老大嫁作商人婦!  

商人重利輕離別,前月浮梁買茶去;  

去來江口守空船,遶船月明江水寒。  

夜深忽夢少年事,夢啼妝淚紅闌干。」  

  

我聞琵琶已歎息,又聞此語重唧唧!  

同是天涯淪落人,相逢何必曾相識!  

我從去年辭帝京,謫居臥病潯陽城;  

潯陽地僻無音樂,終歲不聞絲竹聲。  

住近湓江地低溼,黃蘆苦竹繞宅生;  

其間旦暮聞何物?杜鵑啼血猿哀鳴。  

春江花朝秋月夜,往往取酒還獨傾。  

豈無山歌與村笛?嘔啞嘲哳難為聽。  

今夜聞君琵琶語,如聽仙樂耳暫明。  

莫辭更坐彈一曲,為君翻作琵琶行。  

感我此言良久立,卻坐促弦弦轉急;  

淒淒不似向前聲,滿座重聞皆掩泣。  

座中泣下誰最多?江州司馬青衫溼。