Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Lord of the East (Qu Yuan)


This is the first of the shamanic "Nine Songs", in Chinese Jiu Ge (九歌), supposed to have been collected by Qu Yuan in the 3rd century BC as part of his anthology Chu ci, or songs of Chu, often known as "Songs of the South". This is as a very late celebration of dragon festival day which is said to be in honour of this poet. The songs almost all express a love between the shaman and the god/goddess to whom the song is addressed, all except the first, addressed to the supreme spirit called "The Lord of the East". Here it is in translation alongside a beautiful video of Bei Bei playing "Under the White Wind" on the gu zheng (or zither)For more zither-playing by Bei Bei, see:


The Lord of the East

On this auspicious day, favourable and sacred,
Let us turn east and pray that we may please the Lord.
I hold forth for Him my long sword by its jade guard.
Clothes adorned with jade pendants make a tinkling sound.
Gifts are laid upon the jewelled mat with its jade weights.
I sprinkle the rich and fragrant flower-offerings,
Served with orchids, tender meat wrapped with scented grass.
I set out the cassia-wine and peppered drink.
Now the sticks are raised, the drums are struck,
To beats distant and slow, the chanters gently sing.
Then the reed organ and zither loud reply.
Finally come priestesses dancing in their splendid robes
And all the hall is filled with the sweetest fragrance.
The five sounds mingle in mellifluous harmony.
The Lord is well pleased, his heart at rest.


  1. The five sounds mingle ....

    The chanters
    the drums
    the reed organ
    the zither

    Very beautiful .. and instrument
    I rarely hear...but really enjoy.... thanks Okie !!!

  2. That's a good question! :) It reminded me of Chinese-element theory, in which there are five elements... wonder if this relates to instruments also.

    Glad you enjoyed!

  3. Zhiping Chen: Chinese do not see it as coincidence that human beings have five internal organs: heart, liver, lungs, kidneys and spleen; and five sensory organs: mouth, nose, eyes, ears and tongue; and five fingers on each hand.

    According to the five basic tones, one can detect different influences in the human body. For instance, Keng-based melodies are classified as noble, Earth-related, and affect the spleen. Often listening to such music makes one tolerant and kind.

    Shang melodies are heavy, like metal, unbending. This music affects the lungs; and frequent listening makes one righteous and friendly.

    Chueh-based music heralds the arrival of spring and awakens all life anew. This kind of music affects the liver. Listening to it makes one kindhearted and conciliatory.

    Chih music is highly emotional, like fire. It affects the heart. But listening to it makes one generous.

    Yue-based tunes are melancholy, like placidly running water. They affect the kidneys. Listening to these tunes makes one mentally balanced and gentle, “sad but not hurt,” and “content but not to excess,” as the ancient Chinese saying goes. This is what the culture of Chinese music attempts to convey.

  4. Just from my imagination...
    I would say the bamboo flute is missing (heralding the arrival of spring). :^)

    I was about to change my mind and say this is quite similar to the reed organ, but it's not because this is blown laterally, whereas the reed organ is blown into like a Western recorder. On the same site, I found another lovely picture of the Chinese zither (zheng).

  5. According to the five basic tones, one can detect different influences in the human body.

    This is very intriguing ....... Thanks Okie !!

    re: "The five sounds mingle in mellifluous harmony"

    Okie wrote:
    Just from my imagination...
    I would say the bamboo flute is missing (heralding the arrival of spring).

    Lin's reply:
    could be !!!

    or perhaps this is the fifth sound ... (missed it during my first read through.)....

    "jade pendants make a tinkling sound."
    Though I'm not sure how that fits into the information you have provided for me here.... but I will be flagging this post, for a revisit soon.

    Thanks again
    Be Well.

  6. Oh yeah! That's so good!

    Traditionally, the five tones are associated with the Chinese scale, so like five notes, but this poem has five different kinds of sound. Very cool!

    璆鏘鳴兮琳琅。 qiú qiāng míng xī lín láng — tinkling resonance of jade
    揚枹兮拊鼓,, yáng fú xī fù gǔ — striking of drums
    疏緩節兮安歌。 shū huǎn jié xī ān-gē — slow and peaceful singing
    陳竽瑟兮浩倡, chēn xī hào chāng – reed pipe & zither

    (Transcription thanks to google. I don't know Chinese myself, but would love to.)

  7. Fascinating thread, Okei.... I loved the music!

  8. Yes, me too! ...which is why I pinched it to go with the poem:)

    If you, or anyone else, are ever feeling moved to look at the rest of the nine songs, just leaving the link to come back to. (The second song is on page 31.)