[Ch'u-P'ing, 4th century B.C., is a famous poet and minister of the State of Ch'u. Being unjustly dismissed from favour, he committed suicide by drowning, and his death gave rise to an annual festival, known as the Dragonboat Festival, at which an imaginary search for his body is made in every available stream of water throughout China.]
THREE years had elapsed since Ch'u-p'ing was dismissed from office, and still he was unable to obtain an audience of his prince. His fervent loyalty had been intercepted by the tongue of slander. He was broken in spirit and knew not whither to direct his steps. In his doubt he repaired to the Chief Augur and asked for a response. The Chief Augur thereupon arranged the divining-grass and wiped the tortoise-shell, saying, "What, sir, are the points on which you desire to be enlightened? "
"Tell me," cried Ch'u-p'ing, "whether I should steadily pursue the path of truth and loyalty, or follow in the wake of a corrupt generation. Should I work in the fields with spade and hoe, or seek advancement in the retinue of a grandee? Should I court danger by outspoken words, or fawn in false tones upon the rich and great? Should I rest content in the cultivation of virtue, or practise the art of wheedling women in order to secure success? Should I be pure and clean-handed in my rectitude, or an oily-mouthed, slippery, time-serving sycophant? Should I hold on my course like an impetuous charger, or oscillate, with the indecision of of a duck in a pool, to and fro as self-interest commands? Should I yoke myself a fellow in the shafts with Bucephalus, or shamble along by the side of Rozinante? Should I vie with the wild goose in soaring to heaven, or scramble for food on a dunghill with hens? Of these alternatives I would know which to choose. The age is muddy and will not be made clean. The wing of the cicada outweighs a thousand pounds. The priceless goblet is set aside for the delf cup. Flatterers fill high places: men of worth are ignored. Alas! who is there that knows my worth?"
The Chief Augur gathered up his divining apparatus and saluted Ch'ü-p'ing, saying, "A foot is oft-times too short; an inch, too long. The implements of my art are not adequate to your requirements. Think for yourself, and translate your thoughts into action. The divining-grass and the tortoise-shell would avail you naught."
When Ch'ü-p'ing was dismissed, he wandered away to the banks of a river, and there poured forth his soul in verse. His colour changed. His body wasted to a skeleton.
One day a fisherman accosted him, saying, "Are you not his Excellency the Prime Minister? What has brought you to this pass? "
"The world," replied Ch'ü-p'ing, "is foul; and I alone am clean. There they are all drunk, while I alone am sober. So I am dismissed."
"Ah!" said the fisherman, "the true sage does not quarrel with his environment, but adapts himself to it. If, as you say, the world is foul, why not leap into the tide and make it clean? If all men are drunk, why not drink with them, and teach them to avoid excess? Of what avail are these subtle thoughts, these lofty schemes, which end only in disgrace?"
"I have heard," rejoined Ch'ü-p'ing, "that the bather fresh from the bath will shake the dust from his hat and clothes. How should he allow his pure body to be soiled with the corruption of earth? I am willing to find a grave in the bellies of the fishes that swim in this stream: I will not let my purity be defiled by the filth and corruption of the world."
The fisherman laughed, and keeping time with his oar, sculled off, singing,
My tassel I'll wash if the water is sweet; If the water is muddy 'twill do for my feet.
Methinks there is a Genius of the hills, clad in wistaria, girdled with ivy, with smiling lips, of witching mien, riding on the pard, wild cats galloping in the rear, reclining in a chariot, with banners of cassia, cloaked with the orchid, girt with azalea, culling the perfume of sweet flowers to leave behind a memory in the heart. But dark is the grove wherein I dwell. No light of day reaches it ever. The path thither is dangerous and difficult to climb. Alone I stand on the hill top, while the clouds float beneath my feet, and all around is wrapped in gloom.
Gently blows the east wind : softly falls the rain. In my joy I become oblivious of home; for who in my decline would honour me now?
I pluck the larkspur on the hillside, amid the chaos of rock and tangled vine. I hate him who has made me an outcast, who has now no leisure to think of me.
I drink from the rocky spring. I shade myself beneath the spreading pine. Even though he were to recall me to him, I could not fall to the level of the world.
Now booms the thunder through the drizzling rain. The gibbons howl around me all the long night. The gale rushes fitfully through the whispering trees. And I am thinking of my prince, but in vain; for I cannot lay my grief.