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SONG OF THE OLD PLUM TREE BEFORE THE SHRINE OF YANPING (EXCERPT)
by Lian Heng (1878 - 1936)
English translation: Miao Guang and Hsin-Yu Huang

I’ve heard that the old cypress trees before the Shrine of Zhuge Liang have bronze-like branches; their steel-like spirit of righteousness is a craftsmanship of nature. I’ve also heard that the old Chinese Juniper trees above Yue Fei’s mausoleum are so tall that they scrape the sky; their lush branches bend towards the South, in sign of their loyalty. Assuming that these old trees are insentient, I wonder why they are revered by many? Witnesses of history are still able to sense the loyalty of Zhuge Liang, who prolonged the reign of Han, and Yue Fei, who drove out the barbarians.

Likewise, there is no true hero but Yanping*, who solely inherited the spirit of chivalry. The roof of his shrine reaches for the heavens, while the old plum tree inside is in full bloom. New branches sprouting from the giant trunk are covered in exuberant leaves, while its subtle fragrance spreads through the warm spring breeze.

Out of anger, Yanping rose, calling himself an orphan, and soared into the sky riding the flying bear*. With a long sword in hand and Mount Kongtong behind him, he was still unable to end the crisis of Luyang or revitalize the place. Supposedly having ridden towards Mount Tian on a horse and having hung up his bow, how could he have given up halfway on his Northern expedition and Southern voyage? The pioneering endeavors were nevertheless aimed at the East of the Eastern Sea. Although the legendary whale** had gone forth, the waters still remained turbid. As the beacons rose over neighboring rivers and mountains, he remained untraceable amidst the changes of time.

Now, what can only be seen is the plum tree that blossoms year after year, with its bloom even more lush. According to legend, the tree has lived over two hundred springs and winters. With vigor coming from its intertwined roots, the tree stands frozen with its origins buried in snow and its branches sealed off by the clouds above. The bright and clear moon appears in the corner against the red wall, while icy reflections of the sword shine at midnight.

Though I enjoy singing and howling over such facts, my heart remains concerned as I think about the nine states. What I see is but a sea of plum blossoms in the lush spring.

── from Lian Yatang Xiansheng Quanji (Complete Works of Mister Lian Yatang)

* The flying bear refers to a dream by Xibohou (Duke of the West) in which he saw a bear flying towards his shrine. This bear was then interpreted as one of eminence─in other words, a hero.

** The legendary whale is a metaphor for Yanping.