白居易《嗟髮落》 “Sighing for Falling Hair” by Bai Juyi


朝亦嗟髮 Sighing for falling hair in the morning;

暮亦嗟髮 Sighing for falling hair in the evening.

落盡誠可嗟, [When the hair is] all gone, it’s indeed worth a sigh,

盡來亦不 Yet losing it all is not that bad.

既不勞洗沐, [I] don’t have the trouble of washing [it],

又不煩梳 Nor the burden of combing [it].

最宜溼暑天, A humid summer day is the best,

頭輕無髻 [As my] head is light without a topknot. 脫置垢巾幘, [I] take off [my] dirty headwrap and leave it aside,

解去塵纓 [And] untie [my] dusty pearl-jade pendant. [2]

銀瓶貯寒泉, A silver bottle with cool spring water,

當頂傾一 [I] pour a ladle over the top of [my] head. 有如醍醐灌, It feels like cream pouring [over me], [3]

坐受清涼 [I] sit and savour the joy of freshness.

因悟自在僧, Thereupon [I] realise the carefree monk

亦資於剃[1] Also benefits from shaving.

*From Bai Juyi ji 白居易集 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979), 496.

[1] Red characters rhyme.

[2] Yingluo 纓絡 usually refers to a pearl or jade necklace, but here it might refer to the ornamented cap with strings to tie it to one’s neck. It is also possible that this word is chosen for the sake of rhyme.

[3] Tihu guan 醍醐灌 is a Buddhist reference. In Sanskrit and Pāli, tihu means “cream” and is often “used figuratively to refer to something’s ‘quintessence’ or ‘supreme point’”; see Buswell and Lopez eds., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014), 523. The set phrase tihu guang ding 醍醐灌頂 (cream pouring over the head) refers to a significant revelation or the achievement of perfect enlightenment, which is implied by the “freshness” in the following line.

 

As one of the most prominent Tang poets, Bai Juyi 白居易 (772-846) is known for his use of plain and easily comprehensible language. As we can see from the example above, his verse is very straightforward and written with an intimate and casual tone. Although the craft of regulated verse (lüshi 律诗) had been perfected by his predecessors, Bai Juyi preferred more ancient forms of poetry (especially the yuefu 樂府, or Music Bureau) that tend to have less intense imagery and allow for a tone that is akin to that of a narrator. With adequate use of particles, Bai Juyi’s lines just flow and transit smoothly from one to the next. The reader doesn’t have to work very hard to figure out the logical connection between two lines or images; there is no need to constantly check out allusions or hesitate over ambiguities.

Bai Juyi’s poetry with his social criticisms might be the most studied part of his works, but he also wrote numerous poems on all kinds of activities and themes concerning his leisure time. The former type of verse has earned him much respect, whereas the latter type reveals his cheerful character as a human being. There is indeed not a lot to be “researched” in his leisure verses on sitting alone, having a good night’s sleep, or not having a good night’s sleep. But this doesn’t mean these poems are not worth reading. Compared to in-depth analysis of the form and meaning of the more celebrated poems, which I do also enjoy, the almost routine writing of poems on trivial matters of daily life more often makes me wonder about the mysteriously intricate relationship between poetry and life. By the way, Bai Juyi’s verse on the (many) days when he was just lazy and idle always resonates with me.

The topic of this week’s poem is highly relatable. I’m not sure when it started, but there is a growing concern about losing hair among my friends, or rather my generation. I suppose this has something to do with the fact that most people of my age are at a relatively early stage in their career and very sensitive to stress at work.

Another reason that I receive a lot of such information is perhaps my connection with the UK, a country that is notorious (at least in my circle) for its power to cause excessive hair loss. Before I moved to London I had been fed with warnings about the hard water (and the boiling and freezing water from the traditional two-tapped basin). To be honest, when I lived there, I didn’t have the impression that I lost more hair than usual… Perhaps I’m not a typical case, but I guess the stress coming from fear of hair loss can certainly aggravate the existing symptoms, if any exist. I won’t go so far as to celebrate going bald in one’s thirties, but I do hope this poem by Bai Juyi can inspire a little bit of optimism.



© National Palace Museum, Taipei

"Budai luohan" 布袋羅漢 by Zhang Hong 張宏 (1577-1652)

 

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