Song Yu

Rhapsody on the Wind



King Xiang of Chu was amusing himself at the palace of Magnolia Terrace, with Song Yu and Jin Cuo attending him. A breeze suddenly blew in upon them, and the king opened his collar and faced the wind, saying “How pleasant this wind! Do We not share it with the common people?”

Song Yu replied, “This is a wind for Your Majesty alone. How could the common people share it?” The king said, “The wind, being the breath of Heaven and earth, blows vast and wide, and does not choose between noble or mean, high or low. But now you claim that this is Our wind alone. Can there be an explanation for this?

Song Yu replied: “I have heard from my teacher that a gnarled and contorted tree attracts nesting birds, and that holes and crevices attract the wind. But the breath of the wind differs depending upon the nature of the places where things lodge.”

The king said, “Where is the wind first born?”



The wind is born from the earth,

Rises from the tips of green duckweed,

Gradually advances into glen and vale,

Rages at the mouths of earthen sacks,

Follows the bends of great mountains,

Dances beneath pine and cypress.

Swiftly soaring, blasting and blustering,

Fiercely it flies, swift and angry,

Rumbling and roaring with the sound of thunder.

Tortuously twisting, in chaotic confusion,

It overturns rocks, fells trees,

Strikes down forests and thickets.



“Then, when its power is abating,

It scatters and spreads, spreads and scatters,

Charging into crevices, shaking door bolts.

All that it brushes is bright and shiny, dazzling fresh

As it disperses and turns away.



“Thus, this cool and refreshing male wind

Blows and swells upward and downward,

Scales and crosses high walls,

Enters the innermost palace.

Buffeting flowers and leaves, it scatters their fragrance.

Lingering amongst cinnamon and pepper trees,

Soaring above coursing waters,

It strikes the great blooms of the lotus.

It plunders basil herbs,

Disperses wild ginger,

Levels peonies,

Splits budding willows.

It whirls into caves, assails hills,

Desolating the many fragrances.

Then, it rambles in the inner courtyard,

Northward ascends the jade hall,

Climbs gauzy curtains,

Passes into the inner chamber,

And at that time it becomes Your Majesty’s wind.



“Thus, when this wind strikes a man:

Its manner is simply so biting cold he shivers and shakes,

Yet it is so refreshingly cool he heaves a sigh of relief.

It is so clean and pure, fresh and cool,

It cures illness, dispels hangovers,

Soothes the body, comforts men.

This is what is called Your Majesty’s male wind.”



The kings said, “Excellent indeed your exposition of the matter! Now may I hear about the wind of the common people?”

Song Yu replied:

“The wind of the common people

Gustily rises from a remote lane

Scooping out grime, raising dust.

Sullen and sad, fretting and fuming,

It dashes through holes, invades doors,

Stirring up sand piles,

Blowing dead embers,

Throwing up filth and muck,

Blowing rotten residue.

In oblique attack, it enters jar-windows,

Reaching into cottage rooms.



“Thus, when this wind strikes a man

Its manner makes him feel dizzy and dazed, downcast and dejected.

It drives heat upon him, inflicts him with dampness,

So that he becomes sad and sorrowful in his heart,

And he takes ill and develops fever.

Where it strikes his lips, sores break out,

Where it touches his eyes, they become red and swollen.

He gnashes his teeth, gasping and groaning,

Half-dead, half-alive.

This is what is called the female wind of the common people.”



Xiao Tong. Wen Xuan or Selection of Refined Literature. Volume 3. Trans. with annotations David R. Knechtges. Princeton NJ: Princeton UP, 1996. 7-13. Print.


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