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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.




A “fu,” or prose-poem, by Sung Yü (fourth century b.c.), nephew of Ch’ü Yüan.

Hsiang, king of Ch’u, was feasting in the Orchid-tower Palace, with Sung Yü and Ching Ch’ai to wait upon him. A gust of wind blew in and the king bared his breast to meet it, saying: “How pleasant a thing is this wind which I share with the common people.” Sung Yü answered: “This is the Great King’s wind. The common people cannot share it.” The king said: “Wind is a spirit of Heaven and Earth. It comes wide spread and does not choose between noble and base or between high and low. How can you say ‘This is the king’s wind’?” Sung answered: “I have heard it taught that in the crooked lemon-tree birds make their nests and to empty spaces winds fly. But the wind-spirit that comes to different things is not the same.” The king said: “Where is the wind born?” and[25] Sung answered: “The wind is born in the ground. It rises in the extremities of the green p’ing-flower. It pours into the river-valleys and rages at the mouth of the pass. It follows the rolling flanks of Mount T’ai and dances beneath the pine-trees and cypresses. In gusty bouts it whirls. It rushes in fiery anger. It rumbles low with a noise like thunder, tearing down rocks and trees, smiting forests and grasses.

“But at last abating, it spreads abroad, seeks empty places and crosses the threshold of rooms. And so growing gentler and clearer, it changes and is dispersed and dies.

“It is this cool clear Man-Wind that, freeing itself, falls and rises till it climbs the high walls of the Castle and enters the gardens of the Inner Palace. It bends the flowers and leaves with its breath. It wanders among the osmanthus and pepper-trees. It lingers over the fretted face of the pond, to steal the soul of the hibiscus. It touches the willow leaves and scatters the fragrant herbs. Then it pauses in the courtyard and turning to the North goes up to the Jade Hall, shakes the hanging curtains and lightly passes into the inner room.

“And so it becomes the Great King’s wind.

“Now such a wind is fresh and sweet to breathe and its gentle murmuring cures the diseases of men, blows away the stupor of wine, sharpens sight and hearing and refreshes the body. This is what is called the Great King’s wind.”

The king said: “You have well described it. Now tell me of the common people’s wind.” Sung said: “The common people’s wind rises from narrow lanes and streets, carrying clouds of dust. Rushing to empty spaces it attacks the gateway, scatters the dust-heap, sends the cinders flying, pokes among foul and rotting things, till at last it enters[26] the tiled windows and reaches the rooms of the cottage. Now this wind is heavy and turgid, oppressing man’s heart. It brings fever to his body, ulcers to his lips and dimness to his eyes. It shakes him with coughing; it kills him before his time.

“Such is the Woman-wind of the common people.”



A Hundred Seventy Chinese Poems. Trans. A. Waley. London: Constable, 1918.



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