Yu Song Answered the King of Chu's Question
Song, Yu 1 (290 B.C.-223 B.C.)
King Xiang of the State of Chu asked Yu Song, "Why haven't common people
praised you very much? You must have conducted yourself poorly on occasion." Yu
Song replied, "Yes. I have. I hope you may forgive my faults and let me finish
what I want to say. A singer in Ying-du City 2 first sang
'Xia-li-ba-ren' 3 (a poor village). There were a thousand people of
Chu who joined in the singing. When he sang 'Yang-e-xie-lu' 4 (Dew on
onions at sunset), there were a hundred people who joined in the singing. When
he sang 'The white snow in springtime' 5, there were less than
several scores of people of Chu who joined in the singing. When he performed the
Shang-tone melodies and Yu-tong melodies, and mingled in a few more advanced Zhi-tone
melodies, there were few people in Chu who joined in the singing. Thus, the more
sophisticated a melody, the fewer the number of people who can join in the
singing. There are great melodies in music. The same is true in birds and fish.
A phoenix, the queen of birds, can soar nine hundred miles high, reaching clouds
and rainbows, bearing the burden of the sky, and hovering above the heavens. How
can a hummingbird hovering beside a twig fence discuss the height of the sky
with the phoenix? A whale, the king of fish, set out from Kunlun Mountain
exposes its fin at Jie-shi Hill 7 in water, and spends the night at
Lake Meng-zhu 8. How can a mud fish in a small
pond discuss the might of rivers and oceans with the whale? As there are
phoenixes among birds and whales among fish, so also are there sages among
humans. Sages of principle and great mind detach themselves from society and
live in seclusion. How can an average person understand my work?"
1 Zi-yuan was Yu Song's other first name. He was a native of the State of Chu
during the Warring States Period, a disciple of Yuan Qu, and was well versed in
poetry. He lamented that Qu was sent into exile and wrote "Nine debates" to
reveal his aspirations.
2 Ying-du City was the capital of the State of Chu.
3 "Xia-li-ba-ren" was a song that appeals to people with poor taste.
4 "Yang-e-xie-lu" was a dirge that appeals to people with average taste.
5 "The white snow in springtime" was a song that appeals to people with
6 Kunlun Mountain is the largest mountain in China. It is located between Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Tibet Plateau.
7 The chapter titled "The Lei River" in The Bible of Rivers says,
"Jie-shi Hill is located in the water south of Ling-yu City which is in the
western part of the State of Liao."
8 Lake Meng-zhu is located in Shang-qiu County of Henan Province.