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朱權《日蝕》“Solar Eclipse” by Zhu Quan (1378-1448)

光浴咸池正皎, Light bathing in the Xian Pond[1] is shining bright,

忽如投暮落虞。 [When it] suddenly, like plunging into dusk, falls into the Yu Abyss.[2]

青天俄有星千點, In the blue sky, thousands of stars appear in a flash;

白晝爭看月一。 In the daytime, [men] rush to look at the moon[-like] crescent.

蜀鳥亂啼疑入夜, Birds of Shu[3] crow in chaos, thinking the night is falling;

杞人狂走怨無。 Men of Qi run in disarray, complaining the sky is gone.[4]

舉頭不見長安日, Lifting my head, [I] don’t see the sun of Chang’an,

世事分明在眼[5] [Yet] matters of the world are plain and clear in front of my eyes.[6]

[1] Xianchi 咸池 (Xian Pond) is traditionally believed to be the bathing place of the sun. In the current context, the pond also recalls the practice of observing solar eclipses via the image of the sun in a basin filled with water, which was a common method in ancient China. [2] Chinese mythology has it that the sun retires into Yuyuan 虞淵 (Yu Abyss) every day. [3] Birds of Shu refers to cuckoos, which often symbolise a longing for home in literature. [4] Qi was an ancient state annexed by the state of Chu in 445 BCE. Because of a famous story about a man of Qi fearing that the sky would fall, “a man/men of Qi” came to represent those who are troubled by problems that are very unlikely to occur; see Liezi 列子: [5] Red characters rhyme. [6] The ending lines can be interpreted on two levels. The phrase chang’an ri 長安日 literally reads “the sun of Long Peace”, which in the current context can be associated with the ancient belief that an eclipse was a sign of the heaven warning the ruler. As the sun was believed to be a positive power, the diminishing or disappearance of the sun was interpreted as an omen of chaos or immorality. Meanwhile, Chang’an ri 長安日 (the sun of Chang’an) is a metaphor for the emperor, for Chang’an was the capital of the Chinese empire for hundreds of years. As Zhu Quan lived most of his life in exile, the last two lines may be understood as a complaint about his situation.

A Song embroidery depicting Xianchi 咸池, the bathing place of the sun.

Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei


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