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散文佳作108篇 第21期:荷塘月色 Moonlight over the Lotus Pond





Moonlight over the Lotus Pond


Zhu Ziqing


It has been rather disquieting these days. Tonight, when I Was sitting in the yard enjoying thecool, it occurred to me that the Lotus Pond, which I pass by every day, must assume quite adifferent look in such moonlit night. A full moon was rising high in the sky; the laughter ofchildren playing outside had died away; in the room, my wife was patting the son, Run-er,sleepily humming a cradle song. Shrugging on an overcoat, quietly, I made my way out, closingthe door behind me.


Alongside the Lotus Pond runs a small cinder footpath. It is peaceful and secluded here, aplace not frequented by pedestrians even in the daytime; now at night, it looks more solitary,in a lush, shady ambience of trees all around the pond. On the side where the path is, thereare willows, interlaced with some others whose names I do not know. The foliage, which, in amoonless night, would loom somewhat frighteningly dark, looks very nice tonight, although themoonlight is not more than a thin, grayish veil.


I am on my own, strolling, hands behind my back. This bit of the universe seems in mypossession now; and I myself seem to have been uplifted from my ordinary self into anotherworld. I like a serene and peaceful life, as much as a busy and active one; I like being insolitude, as much as in company. As it is tonight, basking in a misty moonshine all by myself, Ifeel I am a free man, free to think of anything, or of nothing. All that one is obliged to do, or tosay, in the daytime, can be very well cast aside now. That is the beauty of being alone. For themoment, just let me indulge in this profusion of moonlight and lotus fragrance.


All over this winding stretch of water, what meets the eye is a silken field of leaves, reachingrather high above the surface, like the skirts of dancing girls in all their grace. Here and there,layers of leaves are dotted with white lotus blossoms, some in demure bloom, others in shybud, like scattering pearls, or twinkling stars, or beauties just out of the bath. A breeze stirs,sending over breaths of fragrance, like faint singing drifting from a distant building. At thismoment, a tiny thrill shoots through the leaves and lilies, like, a streak of lightning, straightacross the forest of lotuses. The leaves, which have been standing shoulder to shoulder, arecaught shimmering in an emerald heave of the pond. Underneath, the exquisite water iscovered from view, and none can tell its colour; yet the leaves on top project themselves all themore attractively.


The moon sheds her liquid light silently over the leaves and flowers, which, in the floatingtransparency of a bluish haze from the pond, look as if they had just been bathed in milk, orlike a dream wrapped in a gauzy hood. Although it is a full moon, shining through a film ofclouds, the light is not at its brightest; it is, however, just right for me a profound sleep isindispensable, yet a snatched doze also has a savour of its own. The moonlight is streamingdown through the foliage, casting bushy shadows on the ground from high above, jagged andcheckered, as grotesque as a party of spectres; whereas the benign figures of the droopingwillows, here and there, look like paintings on the lotus leaves. The moonlight is not spreadevenly over the pond, but rather in a harmonious rhythm of light and shade, like a famousmelody played on a violin.


Around the pond, far and near, high and low, are trees. Most of them are willows. Only on thepath side, can two or three gaps be seen through the heavy fringe, as if specially reserved forthe moon. The shadowy shapes of the leafage at first sight seem diffused into a mass of mist,against which, however, the charm of those willow trees is still discernible. Over the treesappear some distant mountains, but merely in sketchy silhouette. Through the branches arealso a couple of lamps, as listless as sleepy eyes. The most lively creatures here, for themoment, must he the cicadas in the trees and the frogs in the pond. But the liveliness is theirs,I have nothing.


Suddenly, something like lotus-gathering crosses my mind. It used to he celebrated as a folkfestival in the South, probably dating very far hack in history, most popular in the period ofSix Dynasties. We can pick up some outlines of this activity in the poetry. It was young girlswho went gathering lotuses, in sampans and singing love songs. Needless to say, there were agreat number of them doing the gathering, apart from those who were watching. It was a livelyseason, brimming with vitality, and romance. A brilliant description can be found in lotusGathering written by the Yuan Emperor of the liang Dynasty:


So those charming youngsters row their sampans, heart buoyant with tacit love, pass on toeach other cups of wine while their bird-shaped prows drift around. From time to time theiroars are caught in dangling algae, and duckweed flow apart the moment their boats are aboutto move on. Their slender figures, girdled with plain silk, tread watchfully on board. This is thetime when spring is grating into summer, the leaves a tender green and the flowers blooming- among which the girls are giggling when evading an out-reaching stem, their skirts tucked infor fear that the sampan might tilt.


That is a glimpse of those merrymaking scenes. It must have been fascinating: butunfortunately we have long been denied such a delight.


Then I recall those lines in Ballad of Xizhou Island:


Gathering the lotus, I am in the South Pond, / The lilies in autumn reach over my head; /Lowering my head I toy with the lotus seeds. / Look, they are as fresh as the wasterunderneath.If there were somebody gathering lotuses tonight, she could tell that the lilies hereare high enough to "reach over her head"; but, one would certainly miss the sight of the water.So my memories drift back to the South after all.


Deep in my thoughts, I looked up, just to find myself at the door of my own house. Gently Ipushed the door open and walked in. Not a sound inside, my wife had been fast asleep for quitea while.


Qinghua Campus, Beijing July, I927.

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