Illustrations to the poem “Qi yue” 七月 (The Seventh Month) in the “Bin feng” 豳風 (Airs of Bin) section of the Shijing 詩經 (Book of Songs), attributed to Ma Hezhi 馬和之 (1130-1170)
Picture credit: The Freer Gallery (https://asia.si.edu/object/F1919.172/)
In the fifth month, the locust moves its legs;
In the sixth month, the bush cricket shakes its wings.
In the seventh month, in the fields;
In the eighth month, in the house;
In the ninth month, at the door;
In the tenth month, the cricket
Comes under our bed.
Filling up all the holes to smoke out rats;
Blocking up north-facing windows and plastering the door.
Come, my wife and children,
It’s the change of year,
Enter this house.
These two images illustrate two parts of the same stanza. In the reading tradition of the Shijing, the lines of Inscription 5 are a well-known example of marking the change of season by insect activities, notably the cricket which moves closer to human residences as it gets colder. Whereas it is difficult to reflect in one image the temporal dimension in the original lines, the artist seems to have made an attempt to “translate” that into a spatial dimension. We see the field, a boy and a woman in the courtyard, and a boy kneeling on the floor in the room, looking somewhere under the bed. In the courtyard, what is the woman saying to the boy squatting on the ground? Perhaps she is explaining to him that he won’t be able to find any cricket outdoors as previously, for they would have moved into the house by now.
Image 6, on the other hand, is loaded with the activities in preparation for the coming winter mentioned in Inscription 6. The boy kneeling on the ground may be waiting for the rats to be smoked out, and the man carrying a shoulder pole probably has some sort of plaster in his buckets.
It is noteworthy that this handscroll has no image at all for the following stanza. The absence of this stanza, which is not short of activities that may be illustrated, also raises the question of the extent to which the current handscroll reflects the original work.
Inscription 1 Inscription 2 What Image 2 might be illustrating
Inscription 3 Inscription 4 Inscription 5 Inscription 6
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