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"An Account of the Drumming from the Watchtower" by Zhu Yunming 祝允明 (1461-1527)

Image credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei

Text and calligraphy by Zhu Yunming 祝允明 (1461-1527)


居臥龍街之黃土曲北,鼓出郡譙。聲自西南來,騰騰沈沈,如莫知其所在。嗚呼!鳴霜叫月,浮空摩遠,敲寒擊熱,察公儆私。若哀者,若怨者,若煩冤者,若木然寡情者,徒能煎人肺腸,白人毛髮,催名而逐利。弔寒人,惋孤婉娥,[1] 戚戚焉,天涯之薄宦,領海之放臣,巖竇之枯禪,沙塞之窮戍,江湖之游女,以至惸孽背燈之泣,畸幽玩劍之憤,壯俠撫肉之歎,逯於悲雅苦犬,愁螿困蚓,且鳴號不能已。嗚呼!鼓聲之悽感極矣。


An Account of the Drumming from the Watchtower

[When I] was staying north of the Loess Bend on Crouching-Dragon Street, drumming broke out from the county watchtower. From the southwest came the sound, rolling and rumbling, as if from somewhere unknowable. O [it] booms through frost and cries to the moon, floats in the air and rubs along into the distance, knocks the cold and hits the warm, scrutinises the public and alerts the private, like one sad, like one bitter, like one wronged and frustrated, like one numb without feeling. [It] just sears the guts and whitens the hair of people anxious for fame and chasing after profit. [It] laments the cold man and pities the lone lady, as mournful as a thin servant at the end of the sky, an exiled subject on the border coast, a withering monk in the craggy cavern, a forlorn guard at the sandy frontier, a wandering woman on rivers and lakes,[2] or the weeping of a bereft person with his back to the lamp, the anger of [someone] sidelined into the dark and playing with his sword,[3] the sighing of a vigorous hero feeling the flesh.[4] [It] even makes a literatus sad and a dog suffer, brings sorrow to a cicada and frustration to an earthworm, and yet continues to wail unstoppably. Alas, so extreme is the woe in that drumming!

At midnight of the eighteenth day of the fifth month in the guixu year [5th June, 1490], [I] write this account of what I hear.


[1] The character 婉 is to be deleted from the text as indicated by the dot on the right. It seems that the character 惋 lingered in the calligrapher's mind when he tried to write the character 娥.

[2] Jianghu 江湖 (rivers and lakes) is a common symbol of a boundless, unpredictable world full of challenges.

[3] It is unclear whether Zhu Yunming has any specific allusions in mind, but playing with one’s sword is an image typically associated with unrecognised talents or unfulfilled dreams.

[4] This probably alludes to Liu Bei 劉備 (161-223) who felt sad about the fat on his thighs after a long time off the horseback. He feared he would grow too old before realising his ambition of re-establishing the Liu family as the ruling house. See Pei Songzhi's 裴松之 (372-451) commentary to the Sanguozhi 三國誌:


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