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/)
The daytime is about cogon grass,
The night twisting ropes.
Hurry up, into the house above,
[We] shall start sowing myriad grains.
In the days of the second, [we] cut the ice, bang-bang;
In the days of the third, [we] store it in icy shade;
In the days of the fourth, early in the morning
[We] make a sacrifice with lamb and scallions.
The last two images on this handscroll both seem quite straightforward, but reading them against textual traditions reveals some interesting aspects of the artist’s interpretation.
The translation of Inscription 7 above reads er 爾 as the simple conjunction er 而, but there are other possibilities, notably suggested by Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127-200):
The word 女 could be read as the second person pronoun ru 汝 or the generic term nü 女 for women. In other words, Zheng Xuan’s note may be understood as:
Er means “you”. You should fetch cogon grass in the daytime and make ropes at night in preparation for the occasions where they are needed.
Er refers to “women”. Women should fetch cogon grass in the daytime and make ropes at night in preparation for the occasions where they are needed.
Although it is fairly common to read er as a second person pronoun, if we look back a few lines in the same stanza, Zheng Xuan’s commentary on the previous activity (harvesting crops) reads, “men’s work in the field is finished (男之野功畢).” The specification of “men” makes it plausible to understand his gloss 女 as “women”.
In Image 7, we find two men making ropes. It would be interesting to know whether the artist consulted the predominant commentary by Zheng Xuan and pondered over the two reading possibilities of his gloss on er at this point, but we have no way to find out now.
For the lines in Inscription 8, commentarial traditions of the Shijing unanimously interpret lingyin 淩陰 (icy shade) as bingshi 冰室 (ice house). Whereas bingshi could refer to a highly artificial construction from as early as in the Han times, the artist, probably aiming to depict a pristine, ideal society of antiquity, chooses to represent a naturalistic model of ice house: a cave by the frozen waters.
Inscription 1 Inscription 2 What Image 2 might be illustrating
Inscription 3 Inscription 4 Inscription 5 Inscription 6 Inscription 7 Inscription 8
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