LAMENT FOR THE SOUTH - BRIEF BACKGROUND
[哀 OI: sadness, mourning. 江 GONG: river. 南 NAAM: south. 江南 GONG-NAAM: the area south of the great river that bisects China. 賦 FU: give, endow. By extension a missive to the emperor regarding moral issues, and hence an ode, elegy, or rhapsody. 庾 YU: storehouse for grains. A surname. 信 SEUN: trust, believe. A missive. 庾信 YU SEUN: surname and given name of the author, in a format no longer quite so common, in that it is but a single character as given name. Literati families often gave their sons names that had a radical (character component) in common, later generations semi-copied that with two syllable names of which each generation would share a first syllable (the 'generation name'), and each subsequent generation then another first syllable. The second syllable (more or less the actual given name) was unique to the person.]
In 557 CE the Liang Dynasty (Leung Chiew 梁朝 502 CE to 557 CE) fell to the Chen, and Yu Hsin, Liang ambassador, was held captive in Chang An, (Cheung On長安) capitol city of the Western Wei (Sai Wai Chiew 西魏朝 535 CE to 556 CE), for the rest of his life.
During that time three of his children were executed.
[Liang was succeeded by the Chen Dynasty (Chan Chiew 陳朝 557 CE to 589 CE) in a small part of the former domains. Western Wei (Sai Wai Chiew 西魏朝 535 CE - 556 CE) was taken over by the son and the nephew of warlord Yuwen Tai (Yuman Tai 宇文泰; also known as Heita (Hak Tsat 黑獺 'black otter'), a barbarian later posthumously honoured as founder of their dynasty) who had founded Western Wei with a Han proxy - in their takeover of the state they established Northern Chou (Pak Chou Chiew 北周朝 557 CE to 581 CE). All of these petty kingdoms which vied for power in the fragmented world of the fifth and sixth century China were superseded by the Sui Dynasty (Tsoei Chiew 隋朝 581 CE to 618 CE), which prepared the way for the glorious Tang Dynasty (Tong Chiew 唐朝 618 CE to 907 CE).]
It was during the latter period, after the fall of both Liang and Western Wei, that Yu Hsin composed the Lament for the South. Probably one of the greatest single pieces of pre-Tang poetry ever written, densely evocative of the lands from which the author was an exile, the society that had been destroyed, the cities laid waste. Heartrending.
I first read it back in the nineties. I had forgotten how good it is.
Around six hundred lines, mostly of six characters each.
At some point I will go into further detail, perhaps presenting passages and translations.
There are a number of literary allusions I don't get, but it shouldn't be too difficult to present a word-portrait of a poem-painting.
Yu Hsin was a typical man of his times - exceedingly literate, well-versed in the classics, a scholar made official. As such he was one of the best representatives of Chinese culture at that time, at any time.
The literati were expected to be men of probity and high ethics, besides being able writers, with a depth and breadth to their knowledge. As such they were examples to be emulated. Upright men, righteous men.
And, in Yu Hsin's case, also homosexual. But that isn't why we remember him.
NOTE: Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciations differ considerably, as you may have shperred from the two different styles above. This is not surprising - they are in fact two separate languages, though derived from the same source.
It was during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (Naam Pak Chiew 南北朝 420 CE to 589 CE) period – the very same era during which Yu Hsin lived – that the Chinese language started showing serious regional separatism, eventually leading to the many splintered tongues of the South. Cantonese is the closest to the language of Sui and Tang of all the Sinitic "dialects", but even Cantonese has deviated.
The poetry still rhymes in Cantonese. In Mandarin it sounds off.
NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:LETTER BOX.
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.