Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Poem on White Plum Blossoms, possibly by Mucihiyan?

In Manchu, the plum blossom is called nenden ilha, “first flower,” apparently because it blooms before other flowers. Like the earlier Flowers to the tune of the Black-Naped Oriole, this poem associates the flower with a spirit from White Jade Terrace (瑤台).

The imagery of the poem is wonderful, but also interesting are the concluding lines:

agu sinde ai fulu / cingkai minde ala se / mucihiyan-i šasigan / hūwaliyambure!
“Brother, what have you to add? By all means, tell me. Harmonize with this tripod of stew.”

The word for “tripod” here is mucihiyan, which is also the name of Mucihiyan Ioi Fan, a collaborator of Jakdan who translated at least three essays on Chinese poetry into Manchu (see here, here and here). It seems like we could understand these last lines to be Mucihiyan inviting his reader to respond to his poem, which he refers to humorously as a “stew.”. [Edit: see the later post on harmonious stew, which shows that references to tripods and harmonious stew are ancient allusions to the prunes that are the fruit of this tree. It is still possible that this poem is by Mucihiyan, but the case is not so clear.]

In the Staatsbibliothek manuscript this poem is not written in Mucihiyan’s distinctive hand, so if he was the original author then the SB text is a copy made by someone else.

šanyan nenden ilha be irgebuhengge    A Poem on White Plum Blossoms
Staatsbibliothek 14.15 (View Online)
tuweri beikuwen edede,    Brrrr...the winter cold
moo anan-i gecehe,    has frosted tree after tree,
juhe nimanggi canggi [extra tooth],    nothing but ice and snow
edun gecen kejine,

    and wind and frost for a long time.

5 damu yoo tai [瑤台] endurin,    But the fairy of White Jade Terrace,
utulihekūi gese,    as though unaware of it,
gengge gangga durungga,    takes form, wandering alone,
nitan hican murungge,    takes shape, spartan and frugal,
hojo saikan banin wen,    beautiful and lovely in appearance,

sele gu-i duha do,

    with iron and jade internal organs.

gecuhun-i ucaran,    The frost is met with
halukan-i mejige,    tidings of warmth.
šahūrun-i hesebun,    The fate of the cold,
niyengniyeri-i šošonggo,

    is to conclude with Spring.

15 hūwanta kenggehun alin,    In the bare and empty mountains,
genggiyen micihiyan muke,    the bright shallow water,
ilha umai ai akū,    not a flower at all
emhun ilaka teile,    but one alone has bloomed.
bolokon-i wa wangga,    A clean fragrant scent,
20jenduken-i wen wengge,    a secret refined influence,
buya bongko fulhuren,    tiny sprouting buds
amba hafun todolo,    an omen of great passage.
bocoi falan ya nenden,    In the realm of color, what is first?
wanggai gurun-i bonggo,    In the country of fragrance it is chief.
25 lo foo [羅浮] tolgin-i saisa,    The gentleman of the dream of Luófú,
biya-i fejile gege,    a lady beneath the moon,
beye giru buruhun,    dim of body and form,
juru akū ten hojo,    peerless in its high beauty.
agu sinde ai fulu,    Brother, what have you to add?
30cingkai minde ala se,    By all means tell me.
mucihiyan-i šasigan,    With this tripod of stew
hūwaliyambure.    harmonize!

Translation Notes

šošonggo. This word normally means “having a chignon” or “shaped like a chignon,” but in this case I think it must be connected with the word šošombi, “to compile; to summarize,” and I think the meaning is that the cold is destined to come to an end with Spring.


  1. Nice find!
    On a similar note, did you find poems where the word 'jakdan' could be taken as a veiled reference to Jakdan?

    1. There are a few cases that could work, but none of them are very clear to me. SB pg 508 on Winter Rain has a couplet sence seci se seri / jakdan jaci jalafun, “the years of a mushroom’s life are scanty / the pine is very long of life”. Jakdan has his own poem on plum blossoms that contains this intriguing line: ilan šahūrun gucu / jakdan mailasun cuse, “three cold friends / pine, cypress and bamboo.” I don’t currently know of anyone by the name of Mailasun or Cuse, but maybe people with these names will turn up. Jakdan makes another reference to jakdan cuse-i hoki, “the pine and bamboo gang” which would also work if we found someone named Cuse. If I had all the time in the world I would comb through Mucihiyan’s diary and collect the names of all of the people he mentions...but that project will have to wait :)

  2. Intriguing, thanks!
    I only read the first volume of Mucihiyan's diary and I don't remember these names turning up, but I may not have paid attention.