top of page

Iris by Shen Zhou 沈周 (1427-1509), with a poem inscribed by Qianlong Emperor 乾隆


Album leaf by Shen Zhou 沈周 (1427-1509), with a poem inscribed by Qianlong Emperor 乾隆 (1711-1799, ruling 1735-1796).

Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei


Iris, also known as hudiehua 蝴蝶花 (butterfly flower) in China


天公賦物本無名。

誰其名者應非

於非本裏爭是非。

多見其為失之

翩翾者蝶翩翾花。

即一即二胥名

謂花非蝶寜非也。

曰蝶是花詎是

娟娟者蘤舒舒草。

露態風姿聊自

漆園吏與宋大夫。

兩不知兮堪絶[1]

Lord Heaven originally confers no name on things;

Any name given is surely not their essence.

Trapped in that which is not the essence and fighting about right and wrong [2]

Often leads to the most absurd of faults.

Fluttering butterfly, fluttering flower;

[They] are one yet two, hence [the flower] is named buterfleoge.[3]

To state a flower is not a butterfly – could that really be wrong?

To say a butterfly is a flower – would that really be right?

Lissom are the blōstma,[4] svelte are the leaves:

With [their] dewy appearance and graceful air, for now [they] are insouciant.

The Official of the Lacquer Garden [5] and the Grandee of Song, [6]

Neither of whom is their concern, are indeed laughable. [7]

[1] Coloured characters rhyme. [2] It should be noted that the first three lines play with the word ben 本, evoking its multiple senses (the original, originally, nature, essence, root, etc.) and the debate about ming 名 (name) and shi 實 (substance) that concerned numerous thinkers throughout Chinese intellectual history. [3] Xu 胥 is an alternative old term for “butterfly;” see Zhuangzi: https://ctext.org/zhuangzi/adjustment-of-controversies. However, it is noteworthy that the passage of reference is disputed. Lu Deming 陸德明 (d. 630) in his celebrated Jingdian shiwen 經典釋文 (3 vols., Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1985), vol. 3, 1505 (2.24a) takes xu 胥 is an alternative term for “butterfly.” Nevertheless, later commentators often follow the prominent Qing scholar Yu Yue 俞樾 (1821-1907) who rejects Lu Deming’s reading and proposes to read xu as “soon” instead; see, for example, Guo Qingfan 郭慶藩 (1844-1896), Zhuangzi jishi 莊子集釋 (4 vols.; Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, [1961] 1982), vol. 3, 626, and Wang Shumin 王叔岷 (1914-2008), Zhuangzi jiaoquan 莊子校詮 (3 vols; Taipei: Academia Sinica, 1988), vol. 2, 662. In any case, the adverbial reading emerged about a century after this poem was composed. My use of the Old English word buterfleoge (butterfly) aims to reflect the archaism of the original text. [4] Hua 蘤 is an obsolete orthographic variant of hua 花 (flower). Here again, I use the Old English word for flower, blōstma, to reflect the choice of graph in the original. [5] The Official of the Lacquer Garden refers to Zhuanzi 莊子 (Master Zhuang).

[6] Song dafu 宋大夫 (Grandee of Song) here is not straightforward. It may refer to an anecdote about the grandee of Song Han Ping 韓憑 (fl. 4th century BCE), whose wife was seized by the king and thereupon committed suicide. The wife threw herself off a terrace. When the king's guards tried to grab her, wherever they touched turned into butterflies; see https://ctext.org/library.pl?if=en&file=96121&page=68.

[7] The implications of the last two lines are far from straighforward. Apart from the translation above, they could also be interpreted as:

The Official of the Lacquer Garden and the Grandee of Song,

Both oblivious of [this, possibly the beauty of the flower], are indeed laughable.

Moreover, given that Zhuangzi was a native of Song, it is worth considering reading Song dafu (Grandee of Song) in a wider sense, i.e. “a great man of Song.” And the last word juedao 絕倒 could indicate admiration instead of defiance. In that case, the penultimate line would suggest a contrast of two identities of Zhuangzi, harking back to his famous discourse about his butterfly dream, after which he couldn’t tell whether he had dreamed of being a butterfly, or whether in reality he was actually part of a butterfly’s dream; see https://ctext.org/zhuangzi/adjustment-of-controversies. Therefore, the last two lines may also read:

The Official of the Lacquer Garden and the Grandee of Song,

Oblivious of each other, inspire sheer admiration.


Album leaf by Giuseppe Castiglione 郎世寧 (1688-1766)

Ablum leaf by Chen Shu 陳書 (1660-1735)


Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei


Irises in my garden

 

Copyright Declaration*:


The texts and images used on the website of Rachelle's Lab are either from the public domain (e.g. Wikipedia), databases with open data licences (e.g. Shuhua diancang ziliao jiansuo xitong 書畫典藏資料檢索系統, National Palace Museum, Taipei), online libraries that permit reasonable use (e.g. ctext.org), or original work created for this website.


Although fair use of the website for private non-profit purposes is permitted, please note that the website of Rachelle's Lab and its content (including but not limited to translations, blog posts, images, videos, etc.) are protected under international copyright law. If you want to republish, distribute, or make derivative work based on the website content, please contact me, the copyright owner, to get written permission first and make sure to link to the corresponding page when you use it.


版權聲明:


本站所使用的圖片,皆出自公有領域(如維基)、開放數據庫(如臺北故宮博物院書畫典藏資料檢索系統)、允許合理引用的在線圖書館(如中國哲學電子化計劃)及本人創作。本站允許對網站內容進行個人的、非營利性質的合理使用。但請注意,本站及其內容(包括但不限於翻譯、博文、圖像、視頻等)受國際版權法保護。如需基於博客內容進行出版、傳播、製作衍生作品等,請務必先徵求作者(本人)書面許可,并在使用時附上本站鏈接,註明出處。


*Read more about copyright and permission here.



0 comments

Comments


bottom of page