Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Beautiful Person (Sima Xiang-Ru)

This is my version of a prose-poem (so-called because it is part-prose, part-poem, or as the Chinese call it fu-style) by the Chinese poet Sima Xiang-Ru from the 2nd century B.C.. The poem is called The Beautiful Person. Click on the link to see the original literal translation, and also a short biography of the poet. As we shall see from the very first line, the poem is about himself, lol.
The Beautiful Person

Handsome Sima Xiang-Ru had journeyed to see the Prince who delighted in his conversation. But another had vilified him, saying to the Prince, “Indeed he is a fine figure of a man, but behind his elegant dress and noble features, his good looks conceal disloyalty and deceit, and he uses his fine rhetoric to flatter and fulfill his pleasure. I have seen him traipsing about in the harem of your Highness. I wonder if you have noticed this?” So the Prince asked Xiang-Ru, “Are you addicted to lust?” “I am not,” he replied. “Then you must be like Confucius and Mo Di,” said the Prince. But Xiang-Ru answered, “Those ancients avoided all acquaintance with sensual delights. Confucius and Mo Di would only have to hear the voice of a beauty from the palace walls, and they would turn their chariot around. It was as if they considered woman as dangerous as raging fire or deep water, and so they hid away and secluded themselves in mountain caves. Seeing as they saw no opportunity for temptation, how can we be sure of their mettle to withstand it?

Let me tell my story of how I withstood temptation’s chalice:
Once on my travels, I came upon a mansion as evening fell.
It was all alone in the clouds, shuttered like a fairy palace.
I pushed my way through the elegant front door having rung the bell.

Exotic perfumes hung in the air, and rich tapestries and there …
Reclining languid and charming on a bed, skin clear and cheeks red
The image of a lady waiting alone, curvacious and fair.
Seeing surprise, and hesitation in my step, she smiled and said:

“From what country do you come? Have you travelled far to reach this place?”
And she offered me wine, brought out a lute, and as I plucked the strings,
I played White Snow and Dark Orchid, and then she sang with mournful face,
“In solitude here, I am. This emptiness no happiness brings.

I long for the handsome prince who can lead me into sunlight’s glades
And in my sadness waiting, here he is! But how long he delays,
Till day becomes evening, alas, and my flower complexion fades.
To you I dare confide my body. Long may we share in lovers’ ways.”

She was so close that her jade hairpins brushed my hat, our clothes whispered.
The sun set in the West, mysterious dusk, light swallowed in darkness.
Outside cold silk snow swirled and from our closed room no sound could be heard,
Just the wind, sad and chill, that all the more increased invitingness.

A golden brazier breathed scented smoke, the bed was laid with fine sheets,
Its curtains lowered, quilt turned back, ivory pillow, all to a tee.
She stepped out of her robe, showing her undergarments’ lacy pleats,
That revealed her white delicate nakedness, her shapely beauty.

Then she came close to me, wrapping her softness, slipping around me,
But my heartbeat did not increase, my purpose steady in my breast.
As the Odes of old say, “clearly we were sworn in good faith to be”:
My resolution upright, without wavering, I wished her the best."


  1. Ah... this is another Eve theme to me..

    As a woman, I marvel at men's fear of sexual desire....

    But given the way some men are in Western society, I am beginning to understand. ;-))))

    Great translation Okei

  2. Beautifully done, Okei :-)

    temptation.... is it to be denied or embraced?

  3. I was discussing themes of temptation and the story of Eve on the third of my Gilgamesh blogs, "The Seduction of the Wild Man", where the Babylonians were celebrating in the seductive power of woman. I don't know if you saw this.

    I don't know whether it's men or women, West or East. Now that you mention it, "fear of the power of sexuality" is probably quite hard to distinguish from "respect of the power of sexuality" and yet they are polar opposites, one framed in language of hypocrisy, opportunity and power, and the other of sensuality, honour and permission.

    Temptation, is it to be denied or embraced? Neither! It is merely, an avenue of possibility to be navigated by the will. :^)

    All very well my saying that though... in practice, you're the warrior. :^)

  4. It did occur to me later that the "Beautiful Person" of the poem could refer to the lady. For some reason I hadn't noticed that and just thought the poet was an ego-maniac trying to prove himself to his Prince. Of course, it could be that also.

    I just love the way he sets up an archetype of male fantasy... and then rejects it. The palace in the clouds, lady in distress, beautiful and alone in the world... everything is just perfect... so this isn't fear... it's the bloody-mindedness of one with stubborn will who knows how to obey orders and therefore can be trusted by his Prince... and if there were a poem "around" this poem, we would find that the poet's dream-self was a work of pure fiction, and that as he told this tale, the poet had his fingers firmly crossed behind his back. We can enjoy the dream though...

  5. I think we are all guilty of having our fingers crossed behind our backs from time to time....

  6. I'm not feeling much like a warrior these last few days lol

  7. No, me neither..... but doing this post cheered me up!

    I'm going to be away from the computer for a few days, and then take a short break over Easter. So I wish you and Cyn and everyone else much happiness, blessings and good spirits, a fantastic Easter, and some lovely chocolate... but not too much. My current favourite is vanilla white... I'm so addicted to it! Usually I'm a fan of the dark stuff. Oooh, temptation!!!

  8. Have a great holiday, Okei! Wishing you all the best of everything too.

    Milk chocolate is my favorite. And peanut butter eggs....oooo yea - temptation for sure :-)))))

    See ya when you return!

  9. Very nice, dude.
    Very few can say 'no' to temptation.
    JC succeeded over the MOST...

  10. Ooooh, have a peaceful Holy Week, dude!

  11. Same to you Okei! have fun! HUGS