Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Asking of Heaven, a lament composed during the Taiping rebellion?

This song laments a dark and bloody time during which the government was ineffective, the troops unfed, bandits proliferated, and neither the gods nor the buddhas would respond to calls for help.

It echoes the same themes as the Lament on the State of the Times, and while neither song mentions anything concrete that relates to a specific time period, there are a number of hints that suggest (to me, anyway) that this refers to the Taiping rebellion, one of the bloodiest civil wars in history. For example:
  • There is a clear feeling of betrayed religious faith the poem, daring to ask Heaven to explain itself, complaining that the gods are useless and the buddhas don’t care. It seems this could reflect the poet’s emotional response to the military successes of the alien religion of the Taiping rebellion.
  • This lament begs Heaven to “let the proper places of father and mother be in true balance,” which seems like it could be a response to the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom’s declaration that the sexes were equal.
  • This lament asks “Where are goods and property now?” This seems like it could be a response to the Taiping abolition of private property.

abka de fonjire ucun [問天歌]    A Song Asking of Heaven
Staatsbibliothek 4.4 (View Online)
abkai gūnin be dacilara.    I  will inquire of Heaven’s mind,
ai turgun be muten ala.    empower me by telling me the reason.
banjirede amuran.    The love of life
abka na-i giyan giyangga,    is the proper order of Heaven and Earth.
5tumen jaka serengge,    The myriad things
abka na-i juse dasu,    are the children of Heaven and Earth.
abka na oci    Heaven and Earth are
     tumen jaka-i ama aja,         the mother and father of the myriad things,
geren ergengge-i wesihungge,    they raised up the many living beings,
niyalmai teile dabala,    not only us human beings,
10urunderahū seme,    but they fear that we should become hungry,
tuttu banjiha jeku bele fulu,    so there are grains and food in plenty,
beyeburahū seme,    and fear that we might freeze,
tuttu mutuha kubun kima niša,    so there are cotton and hemp in profusion,
eture hacin,    and things to wear:
15jodon hiyaban cece ceri    garments of grass, hemp, gauze, netting,
     boso suje-i adu,         cloth and silk.
jetere jaka    and things to eat:
handu šušu turi    rice, sorghum, beans,
     maise ira mere-i buda,         wheat, millet and buckwheat.
fusu fasa tugi aga,    Clouds and rain rush by,
kete kata šun biya,    the sun and moon roll on,
20šahūrun halhūn-i ujire,    nurturing us through cold and heat,
edun akjan-i hūwašara,    raising us through wind and thunder.
aikan faikan jilaka,    They adored us as adorable things,
uttu tuttu gosiha,

    this way and that way they loved us.

te oci ajaja,    But now, oh,
25ai uttu gūwaliyaka,    how things have changed.
mujakū oshon,    Truly cruel,
umesi kiriba,    very barbaric.
ehengge,    Evil
kesingge,    is treated as a blessing,
30saingge,    Good
suingga,    is treated as harmful.
hūlha holo yendengge,    Robbers and thieves are on the rise,
nomhon sain susaka,    honesty and goodness perish.
boigon hethe te aibi,    Where are goods and property now?
35beye ergen bai waliya,    Cast away our bodies and lives,
usin yafan šuwe akū.    the fields and gardens are utterly gone.
menggun jiha ne aba,

    Where are silver and cash now?

haha hehe,    Men and women,
asiha sakda,    children and the elderly,
40fifaka fosoko,    are scattered hither and thither,
jailaha ukaka,    they have hidden and they have fled.
senggi eyepi,    Blood has flowed
giran iktaka,    and corpses piled up.
tumen boo-i ehe [凶] so [兆],    Evil omens on ten thousand households,
45tanggū ba-i wahūn wa,    a foul stench for a hundred miles,
geren irgen ai weile,    but what crime did the people commit?
sui akū de sui mangga,

    It is an injustice on those who did no harm.

jiyanggiyūn amban coohai dade,    Among the generals, officials and soldiers,
arga bodon eden tongga,    plans and calculations are poor and few.
50coohai baitalan,     Implements of war
dembei ambula,    are great in number,
namun funtuhun,    but the storehouses are empty,
caliyan wajiha,    and the provisions are finished.
tule edede,    Freezing on the outside,
55dolo gosime,    hungry on the inside,
dain de tuhekei,    they are falling in battle,
jeyen de wabuhai,    they are being slain by the blade,
dube ai, wajin ya    and what is the end of it? What is the finish of it?
enduri baitakū,    The gods are no use.
60fucihi wei guwanta,    The buddhas don’t care.
ba bade gelecuke,    Every region is frightened,
boo tome akacuka,    each home is full of grief.
genggiyen ejen ai baliya,    Oh enlightened lord! Alas!
abka ya,    Oh Heaven!
65abka ya,    Oh Heaven!
dutu doko ai waka,    Who could blame the deaf and blind?
šan waliya,    Discard your ears.
yasa de,    How can your eyes
uttungge ai jempi,    tolerate this kind of thing?
70 uttungge ai tusa,    What benefit is there to this kind of thing?
g'alab ton okini,

    Let the end of the world come!

šar sere gūnin ainara,    What would a sympathetic mind do?
jobolon be aitubu,    Revive sorrow,
jobocun be sucina,    and redeem grief.
75gashan be wasifi,    Descend upon the calamity,
hūlha sabe hūdun wa,    quickly kill the bandits,
taifin de forgošo,    restore the peace,
necin de dahūna,    and return tranquility.
ama emei teisu giyan,    Let the proper places of father and mother

teherere mujangga,

    be in true balance.

uttu akū ohode,    Since it has not been thus,
turgun gūnin yamaka,    there must be some reason for it.
gisun wacihiya,    Complete my words,
jorin hafukiya,    inform me in detail.
85aide uttu babe,    How can it be like this?
getuken-i alara.    Clearly tell.

Translation Notes

dutu doko ai waka. From context it is clear that doko is the same as dogo, “blind.”

g'alab ton okini. A similar line appeared in the Lament on the State of the Times, where the poet said g'alab ton esi giyan, and Jakdan used similar expressions a couple of times. I think the idea is that times have become so bad that the poet calls for the end of the kalpa and the dissolution of the world.

enduri baitakū, fucihi wei guwanta. Alternately, it seems like this might read “no one resorts to the gods, no one cares about the Buddhas.” Jakdan has a very similar couplet in his Ballad in a Drunken Ramble, where he says enduri wei guwanta, fucihi bai bodon.

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