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Illustrations to the poem “Qi yue” 七月, attributed to Ma Hezhi 馬和之 (1130-1170) Pt. 2

Picture credit: The Freer Gallery (

Inscription 2:





The days of the first [month] are blowy {The commentary states, “The wind is cold.”}

The days of the second [month] are chilly. {Cold air.}

Without clothes or marrymuffe,

How could [we] get through the year?


This image and inscription seem to be misplaced, as Zhang Xigeng 張錫庚 (d. 1861) notes in his colophon at the end of the handscroll. As the calligraphy of Inscription 2 looks different from that of the other inscriptions, he also suspects that Inscription 2 was added without much scrutiny at a certain point after the original inscription for the second image had been lost.[1]

Indeed, the other six inscriptions on the current handscroll all follow the order of lines in the “Qi yue”, but the text of Inscription 2 (lines 3-6, see the first three stanzas of the original poem below) actually comes before that of Inscription 1 (lines 7-11) in the poem. The second image, where we find one man with an axe and the other with a branch, a ladder laying nearby, is most likely to be illustrating lines 26-27 about chopping down high branches (see the translation below). Given how specific lines about each activity are treated in this handscroll, it seems unlikely that the artist would skip all the activities in lines 12-25. In other words, apart from the missing inscription mentioned by Zhang Xigeng, there may also be missing images.

[1] See the image of the colophon at


The second section depicts the meaning of “Take that axe / To lop off far [branches] and flying [twigs]” from the third stanza. However, the excerpt from the classic is the last lines of the first stanza, which does not correspond to the painting. Also, the calligraphy is different from that of the inscriptions before and after [this section]. Supposedly the excerpt from the classic for this part had been lost, and the later hand that reattached an inscription failed to scrutinise [the situation].

Inscription 1 Inscription 2 What the second image might be illustrating

[2] Cf. a selection of renowned translations: James Legge (

And take their axes and hatchets, To lop off those that are distant and high.

Bernhard Karlgren, The Book of Odes: Chinese text, transcription and translation (Stockholm: The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, 1950), 99:

We take those axes and hatchets, and lop the far-reaching and highly-rising ones.

Arthur Waley, The Book of Songs: The Ancient Chinese Classic of Poetry (New York: Grove Press, 1937), 165:

Take that chopper and bill To lop the far boughs and high.


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