Friday, 17 December 2010

Story of a Sing-Song Girl (Bai Xingjian)

This is based on a short story by Bai Xingjiang from the T’ang Dynasty, China (~800 AD).

Story of a Sing-Song Girl
Son of an emperor, he was undone
By the beauty of a sing-song dove.
She took him in and he had such fun,
Abandoning his studies for love.

But time for lovers passes away,
A year flew by, his money ran out,
The dove it flew too, one windy day,
And he could find her nowhere about.

He began singing funeral songs,
His voice was heard, the emperor got word.
So furious was he, of his son’s wrongs,
He half-killed him for loving that bird.

But the dove, she sensed his mortal strife
And flew back at once, aching with guilt.
Soothing him, she brought him back to life
And vowed to stay till his strength was built.

Slowly she nursed him back to good health,
In time he’d be as grand as before.
She took care of him, emptied her wealth,
And encouraged him to study more.
She helped him to read through the long hours
And when he was tired, made him write verse
So, mind relaxed, he regained his powers
And excelled despite his father’s curse.
One day he was ready for the test,
But she held him back another year,
This time to make sure he did his best
And would pass with great distinction clear.
When the emperor heard his son, not dead,
Was alive and famous far and wide,
Distinguished in virtue and well-read,
Delighted, he called him to his side.
The dove saw then that her work was done
And bid farewell though he begged her stay,
Insisting she leave the emperor's son,
But relented to come but partway.
When the son arrived and told this tale,
The emperor called back his saviour dove,
Struck by her faithfulness to travail
That she had shown his son through her love.
And so the pair, united once more,
Lived happy for the rest of their years,
Blessed by a love that none can ignore
For it had shone out through pain and tears.


  1. Another perfect metaphor ... how "reuniting with lost love" is the internal process of transcendence. So often it is sought THROUGH personal relationships when they are simply a mirror of our inward journey back to Being.

    It appears that each of our lives is about grasping and transcending disappointment in some form - LOSS of our dove.... but what most of these stories fail to include, is that our fear of "being disappointing" to others (the CAUSE of our own pain) is the illusion that prevents reclaiming that dove - our bliss...

    Great post, Okei!

  2. Thank you Nancy for reading deep! I'm still thinking on what you said... It seems the son in this poem stopped being disappointing to his father because of his success rather than overcoming his fear of disappointing. I found the story really moving, because the dove kept the faith and brought out the best in the son... and yet, despite what she'd done, she was not attached to him, but let him go... so of course destiny brought them together again. (This ties in very well with the philosophy of Lao-Tzu of letting things be, not being concerned about self-interest so self-interest is preserved, doing one's task and moving on etc.)

    So maybe I was reading slightly different things into it?

  3. Hi Nancy, I was being dim yesterday... I see what you mean now! The dove represents the son's bliss. The dove left him on the way back to his father the emperor, because he was afraid that being himself and following his bliss would disappoint his father. The fear of disappointing was thus a major impediment to him realizing his bliss.

    I've also tinkered with the last few verses, so hopefully they read a lot clearer than before... it's still not perfect, but I'm hoping the clumsiness of the language has more a quality of rustic charm than confusing dullness, and does not detract from the beauty of the story.