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Illustrations to the poem “Qi yue” 七月, attributed to Ma Hezhi 馬和之 (1130-1170) Pt. 1

As one of the Confucian classics and most towering literary models, the Shijing 詩經 (Book of Songs) has been illustrated many times, and the poem “Qi yue” 七月 (The Seventh Month) that delineates the cycle of early agricultural life is a popular choice of topic. The handscroll attributed to Ma Hezhi 馬和之 (1130-1170), from which the images below are drawn, is among the earliest extant examples of such illustrations. The Palace Museum in Beijing also houses a handscroll by Ma Hezhi illustrating the same poem, among several other poems representing farming life from the “Bin feng” 豳風 (Airs of Bin) section.[1]


Most translations of the Shijing available now are either informed by its extremely rich commentary traditions or attempts to reveal the “original meaning” intended by the anonymous poets prior to the advent of all the heavily moral-loaded readings. However, we do not have many discussions about visual interpretations of the Shijing and how an artist reads the text. My translations here are primarily informed by corresponding illustrations, aiming to reveal the artist’s perception of his textual source via his visual representation.


Picture credit: The Freer Gallery (https://asia.si.edu/object/F1919.172/)

Inscription 1:

三之日于耜{脩耒耜也},

四之日舉趾{民無不舉足而耕}。

同我婦子,

饁{饋也}彼南畝,

田畯田大夫也至喜。[2]

In the days of the third [month]: on ploughs. {Servicing ploughs.}

In the days of the fourth [month]: lift toes. {All commoners lift their feet to plough.}

Along with my wife and child,

[I] cater {provide food} for those in the southern acres.

The surveyor {the officer of the fields} arrives, and [we prepare] drinks and food [for him].[3]

[1] See https://en.dpm.org.cn/dyx.html?path=/tilegenerator/dest/files/image/8831/2009/2121/img0067.xml. Whereas the handscroll in the Freer Gallery breaks down one poem and illustrates specific lines, the handscroll in the Palace Museum in Beijing illustrates seven poems in total, with one image for each poem. [2] The smaller scripts are extracts from Mao’s 毛氏 reading tradition, the predominant commentary in the study of the Shijing. These explanatory notes are marked by {} in my translation. [3] Whereas the last character 喜 is often read as “pleased” in existing translations (especially under the influence of Zhu Xi's 朱熹 (1130-1200) commentary in his Shijing jizhuan 詩經集傳), the officer in the image is not really depicted as a joyful figure. The artist probably follows Zheng Xuan’s 鄭玄 (127-200) note on Mao’s tradition and reads 喜 as 饎 (drinks and food) instead. Zheng Xuan also suggests that the last line means the farmers prepare drinks and food for the officer; see Maoshi zhengyi 毛詩正義 https://ctext.org/library.pl?if=en&file=80146&page=31.


Cf. a selection of renowned translations: James Legge (https://ctext.org/book-of-poetry/qi-yue):

In the days of [our] third month, they take their ploughs in hand; In the days of [our] fourth, they take their way to the fields. Along with my wife and children, I carry food to them in those south-lying acres. The surveyor of the fields comes, and is glad.

Bernhard Karlgren, The Book of Odes: Chinese text, transcription and translation (Stockholm: The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, 1950), 97:

In the days of the third we go to plough;

in the days of the fourth we lift the heals;

all our wives and children carry food (to us) in those southern acres;

the inspector of the fields comes and is pleased.

Arthur Waley, The Book of Songs: The Ancient Chinese Classic of Poetry (New York: Grove Press, 1937), 164:

In the days of the Third they plough; In the days of the Fourth out I step With my wife and children, Bringing hampers to the southern acre Where the field-hands come to take good cheer.

 

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