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韓愈《三星行》“Three Asterisms” by Han Yu (768-824)


“Three Asterisms”[1] by Han Yu (768-824)

我生之辰, At the time I was born,

月宿南。 The moon stayed at the Southern Dipper;

牛奮其角, The Ox thrust its horns high;

箕張其。 The Winnowing Basket opened its mouth wide.

牛不見服, The Ox doesn’t seem to draw a carriage,

斗不挹酒漿。 Nor does the Dipper ladle wine.

箕獨有神靈, Only the Winnowing Basket has divine spirit,

無時停簸。 Shaking and spreading with no end.[2]

無善名已, Without merit, the name is already known;

無惡聲已。 Without evildoing, [ill] fame is already on everyone’s lips.

名聲相乗, [When] the name and fame are counted up,

得少失有。 Few are the gains and great the losses.

三星各在天, The three asterisms each take their positions in the sky,

什伍東西。 A dozen in the east, a few in the west.

嗟汝牛與斗, Alas! You Ox and Dipper,

汝獨不能[3] Why do you alone have no magic at all?

*From Han Yu, Han Yu quanji jiaozhu 韓愈全集校注 (Chengdu: Sichuan Daxue Chubanshe, 1996), edited by Qu Shouyuan 屈守元 and Chang Sichun 常思春, 421. For an alternative translation see Erwin von Zach, Han Yü’s Poetische Werke (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952), 96f.

[1] The three asterisms, i.e. three groups of stars, here refer to the jixiu 箕宿 (Winnowing Basket Mansion; determinative star: γ Sagittarii), douxiu 斗宿 (Dipper Mansion = the Southern Dipper; determinative star: φ Sagittarii) and niuxiu 牛宿 (Ox Mansion; determinative star: β Capricorni) in Chinese constellations. [2] The tradition of “accusing” the Ox and the Southern Dipper of not living up to their names goes back to the poem “Dadong” 大東 in the Shijing 詩經 (Book of Songs); see Mao's tradition of the Shijing notes that the Draught Ox (qianniu 牽牛) in the poem “Dadong” refers to the asterism hegu 河鼓 (River Drum), in which the brightest star is α Aquilae or Altair (one of the three stars of the Summer Triangle). However, some commentators regard the Draught Ox as an alternative term for the Ox Mansion. Kong Yinda 孔穎達 (574-648) admits in his commentary on Mao's tradition that he cannot tell who is right; see Maoshi zhengyi 毛詩正義: In the literary realm, this classical reference has been shared by both asterisms. In Han Yu's poem, there is little doubt that he is talking about the Ox Mansion as its pattern is closer to the image described in line 3. Another interesting thing to note is that the poem “Dadong” also complains that “In the south is the Winnowing Basket / which does not shake and spread” (維南有箕,不可以簸揚). In other words, Han Yu recalls the famous literary reference with a little twist to draw an analogy between endless slanders in his life with the basket of rumours wide open, shaking and spreading endlessly, as if the adversities in his political career had been written in the stars at the time of his birth. [3] Coloured characters rhyme.

The three mansions mentioned in Han Yu's poem.

An image showing two men (right) with winnowing baskets, from the album "Gengzhitu" 耕織圖 by Chen Mei 陳枚 (fl. 17th century)

Picture credit: The National Palace Museum, Taipei


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