Quan Deyu – Written on Summer Solstice Day

(Source)

Big Dipper asterism, part of the Ursa Major constellation (Source)

Quan Deyu (權德輿, 권덕여, 759-818) was a mid-Tang dynasty period (唐, 당, 618-907) bureaucrat and poet. He was born in Tianshui (天水, 천수); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Zaizhi (載之, 재지); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Wengong (文公, 문공). From an early age, Quan Deyu was recognized for his literary talents. By the age of 15, he had already published a volume containing hundreds of his poems in the Collection by a Child Ignoramus (童蒙集, 동몽집). When Tang Emperor Dezong (唐德宗, 당 덕종, 742-805, r. 779-805) heard of him, he appointed Quan Deyu to the prestigious positions of the Scholar of the Ministry of Ceremonies (士, 태상박사) and Drafting Official of the Secretariat (中書舍人, 중서서인). During his time at the Ministry of Rites, Quan Deyu was tasked on three occasions with selecting qualified candidates from the imperial examination. He especially excelled at choosing candidates from the countryside, who were often overlooked, thereby earning the nickname “Obtainer of [Talented] Men” (得人, 득인). By being favored at the imperial court, Quan Deyu was promoted to higher positions later on. During the reign of Tang Emperor Xianzong (唐憲宗, 당 헌종, 778-820, r. 805-820), he became the Minister of Rites (禮部尚書, 예부상서) and Regional Governor of the Shannan West Circuit (山西道節度使, 산남서도 절도사). Few years into his last post, Quan Deyu became gravely ill, and decided to return to his home village but passed away en route.

His own literary talents were recognized well after his death. His works appear in both the Complete Literary Works of Tang (文, 전당문) and the Complete Tang Poems (全唐詩, 전당시), anthologies that were compiled in the 19th and 18th centuries respectively. In the poem below, Quan Deyu tersely describes the celestial order in relation to the Earth’s seasons, in particular reflecting upon the Summer Solstice (夏至, 하지). The Summer Solstice marks the day when the Sun is at the celestial longitude of 90 degrees, and falls around June 21 or 22 on the Western Gregorian Calendar. 

夏至日作 하지일작

Written on Summer Solstice Day

璇樞無停運 선구무정운 平平平平仄
四序相錯行 사서상착행 仄仄平仄平(韻)
寄言赫羲景 기언혁희경 仄平仄平仄
今日一陰生 금일일음생 平仄仄平平(韻)

The celestial jade and pivot, without stopping, translate;
The four orders mutually staggered travel.
Send a message to the bright, shining sun:
Today, the first of the Yin (陰, 음) arises.

Definitions:

Star name • pivot • without • to stop • to move
Four • arrangement • mutually • to stagger • to travel
To send • message • bright • bright • sunlight
Today • day • one • Yin • to arise

Notes:

  • Pentasyllabic truncated verse (五言絶句, 오언절구) with an invocation of an exception. Riming character (韻, 운) is 庚(경). This poem has — I believe — two examples of broken form (拗體, 요체), which refers to specific types of violation of the conventional tonal meter that were considered acceptable, and were frequently employed in recent style poems during the Tang and Song dynasty periods in China.
    • The first couplet exhibits a doubly broken form (雙拗, 쌍요). In the first line, the fourth character (停, 정) should be an oblique tone (仄, 측), but is a plain tone (平, 평) thereby breaking (拗, 요) the tonal meter (平仄, 평측); however, the couplet is “saved” (救, 구) with the use of a plain tone in the third character (相, 상) of the second line.
    • The third line exhibits a singly broken form (單拗, 단요). In this line, the third character (赫, 혁) should be a plain tone, but is an oblique tone; however, the line is saved with the use of a level tone in the fourth character (羲, 희).
  • 璇(선) – Literally “jade.” Refers to Beta Ursae Majoris, which is also referred to as Merak in English.
  • 樞(구) – Literally “pivot.” Refers to Alpha Ursae Majoris, which is also referred to as Dhube in English. It is at the front of the Big Dipper asterism.
  • 四序(사서) – Literally “four orders.” Refers to the four seasons.
  • 今日一陰生(금일일음생) – Under the Yin and Yang duality (陰陽, 음양), the Yin is said to arise between during the the Summer Solstice and the Winter Solstice, as the days become shorter.
  • Korean translation available here.
6 comments
  1. riroriro said:

    _ 璇 and 樞 are they different stars or the same . How do you come by the meaning 璇 = star gauge
    _ 錯 may mean = exchange ; 相錯 may men = the 4 seasons follow , replace each other
    _ 羲 is mythical emperor 伏羲 ; 羲景 would mean = legendary antiquity period of peace

    • 歸源 said:

      1. Corrected. But 璇 can refer to a star gauge (e.g., 璇璣).
      2. Current translation is not that much different.
      3. 赫羲 is a binome (連綿詞) meaning “to be bright.” Your suggestion does not offer how it would fit in context.

      • riroriro said:

        _ 2nd line : how do you come to ” stagger “?
        _ as everybody knows , chinese classic is most of the time obscure , abstruse, one can only make conjectures
        _ 3rd verse would mean : send a message ” hoping for the comeback ” of the 伏羲 emperor ‘s resplendent era of peace and prosperity; it would contrast fittingly with the opening words of 4th line 今日

      • 歸源 said:

        I’ve warned you before. Please think through before commenting and when you comment please state your reasoning. For example, your second point renders your insistence on any “correct” translation useless. You might as well look at the cracks on tortoise shells to tell me your decipher at this point.

  2. riroriro said:

    There is a misunderstanding :
    _ on vocabulary , it’s sometimes possible to get the accurate meaning , that’s why I “insist ” on ” correctness ” as you say ; actually never have I in mind any ” insistence ” or catching anybody in default , it’s would’nt be polite , my intentions are always to suggest meanings , to compare opinions , to exchange ideas
    _ on the meaning of a whole line or part of a line , it’s is most of the time abtruse , that why I talk about ” conjectures ”
    _ so no offense meant , I hope

    • 歸源 said:

      It is difficult not to be offended, when your insistence of certain interpretations or suggestions often exhibits lack of rudimentary knowledge (e.g., understanding of simple tonal meter). I understand that there is a language barrier for you with French to English.

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