Huang Tingjian (黃庭堅, 황정견, 1045-1105) was a Song Dynasty (宋, 송, 960-1279) bureaucrat and a poet. He was born in what is now Xiushui (修水, 수수) in Jiangxi Province (江西省, 강서성); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Luzhi (魯直, 노직); and his pen names (號, 호) were Shan’gu Daoren (山谷道人, 산곡도인) and Fuweng (涪翁, 부옹).
From an early age, Huang Tingjian was interested in studies of Taoism (道學, 도학) and Buddhism (佛學, 불학). In 1066, he passed the civil service examination and just five years later became a tutor at the Imperial Academy (國子監, 국자감) before attaining even higher ranking positions. During this time, he became acquainted with and then became a pupil of another famous contemporary poet, Su Shi (蘇軾, 소식, 1037-1101). This association, however, would later be problematic for Huang Tingjian’s political career. In 1095, he was banished to Pengshui (彭水, 팽수) in Sichuan Province (四川省, 사천성) for supposedly expressing opposition through a poem to Wang Anshi’s (王安石, 왕안석, 1021-1086) New Policy Faction (新法黨, 신법당) and their socioeconomic reforms, which was opposed by Su Shi and his Old Policy Faction (舊法黨, 구법당). In 1100, when Emperor Huizong (宋徽宗, 송 휘종, 1082-1135, r. 1100-1135) rose to the throne, Huang Tingjian was reinstated and given a government post. He was, however, banished just two years later to Yizhou (宜州, 의주) in Guangxi Province (廣西省, 광서성), when the political winds shifted once again. Huang Tingjian passed away a few years after, away from his family.
Throughout his political career, Huang Tingjian was renowned for his poetry, becoming one of the most distinguished poets of the Northern Song Period (北宋, 북송, 960-1127). His poems became famous for skirting around the normal, already complicated ground rules of recent poetry style (近體詩, 근체시) by invoking an even more complicated technique called “Crooked Form” (拗體, 요체). In the poem below — which does not employ Crooked Form –, Huang Tingjian writes about the Pure Brightness Festival (淸明, 청명). The festival falls on the day following the Cold Food Festival (寒食, 한식) usually around April 5 or 6 on the Western Gregorian Calendar. The traditional custom is to sweep and clean up the burial mounds of ancestors and to offer ancestral rites. Though this custom has not fared well in modern times, Huang Tingjian too laments about the custom’s neglect almost a thousand years ago.
The Pure Brightness Festival
On the beautiful day of the Pure Brightness Festival, the peaches and apricots smile;
But in the fields and paddies, the neglected tombs only give rise to grief.
A thunderbolt startles heaven and earth, causing the dragons and snakes to hide;
The rains are plentiful on the outer fields, making the grass and trees luxuriant.
Men who have engorged on leftover offerings flaunt to their concubines;
Scholars favor death by fire over becoming feudal lords.
The sagely and the stupid for thousands of years have known who are like this.
Filling the sight, the mugworts and wormwood together are one mound.
Beautiful • festival • clear • bright • peaches • apricots • laugh
Fields • rice paddies • desolate • burial mound • only • to create • worries
Thunder • to startle • heaven • earth • dragons • snakes • to hide
Rain • to suffice • outskirt • field • grass • trees • to be meek
People • to beg • ceremony • leftover • to flaunt • concubines • wives
Scholar • to be sweet • to burn • death • not • dukes • lords
Sages • fools • thousand • years • to know • who • this
To fill • eyes • mugworts • wormwood • together • one • hill
- Heptasyllabic regulated poem (七言律詩, 칠언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 尤(우).
- 人乞祭餘驕妾婦(인걸제여교첩부) – Allusion to Mencius (孟子, 맹자), Lilou Chapter II (離婁下, 이루하). In the story, a man brags to his wife everyday that he has engorged himself with his rich friends. His wife becomes suspicious and tracks his movements one day, only to find him stuffing himself with leftover offerings.
- 士甘焚死不公侯(사감금사불공후) – Allusion to Jiezitui (介子推, 개자추, ?-636BC), a minister of the Jin state (晉, 진, 1042-376BC). When Duke Wen of Jin (文公, 문공, 697-628BC) had to flee the Jin state, Jiezitui is said to have cut his own thigh to offer as meat to feed to the Duke. Sometime later, he retired to the mountains to live in seclusion. Duke Wen invited Jiezitui as a minister back into the court, but he refused. The Duke in response set the mountain on fire hoping that he would come down. Instead, Jiezitui remained on the mountain and died, grabbing onto a trunk of a tree. The Duke in remorse ordered that each year for three days that no fires be lit in commemoration of his death. This is the origin tale for the Cold Food Festival.
- Korean translation available here.