A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems/The Man who Dreamed of Fairies
THE MAN WHO DREAMED OF FAIRIES
This poem is an attack on the Emperor Hsien-tsung, A. D. 806–820, who "was devoted to magic." A Taoist wizard told him that herbs of longevity grew near the city of T'ai-chou. The Emperor at once appointed him prefect of the place, "pour lui permettre d'herboriser plus à son aise" [Wieger, Textes III, p. 1723]. When the censors protested, the Emperor replied: "The ruin of a single district would be a small price to pay, if it could procure longevity for the Lord of Men."
There was once a man who dreamt he went to Heaven:
His dream-body soared aloft through space.
He rode on the back of a white-plumed crane,
And was led on his flight by two crimson banners.
Whirring of wings and flapping of coat tails!
Jade bells suddenly all a-tinkle!
Half way to Heaven, he looked down beneath him,
Down on the dark turmoil of the World.
Gradually he lost the place of his native town;
Mountains and water — nothing else distinct.
The Eastern Ocean — a single strip of white:
The Hills of China, — five specks of green.
Gliding past him a host of fairies swept
In long procession to the Palace of the Jade City.
How should he guess that the children of Tzü-mēn
Bow to the throne like courtiers of earthly kings?
They take him to the presence of the Mighty Jade Emperor:
He bows his head and proffers loyal homage.
The Emperor says: "We see you have fairy talents:
Be of good heart and do not slight yourself.
We shall send to fetch you in fifteen years
And give you a place in the Courtyard of Immortality."
Twice bowing, he acknowledged the gracious words:
Then woke from sleep, full of wonder and joy.
He hid his secret and dared not tell it abroad:
But vowed a vow he would live in a cave of rock.
From love and affection he severed kith and kin:
From his eating and drinking he omitted savoury and spice.
His morning meal was a dish of coral-dust:
At night he sipped an essence of dewy mists.
In the empty mountains he lived for thirty years
Daily watching for the Heavenly Coach to come.
The time of appointment was already long past.
But of wings and coach-bells — still no sound.
His teeth and hair daily withered and decayed:
His ears and eyes gradually lost their keenness.
One morning he suffered the Common Change
And his body was one with the dust and dirt of the hill.
Gods and fairies! If indeed such things there be,
Their ways are beyond the striving of mortal men.
If you have not on your skull the Golden Bump's protrusion,
If your name is absent from the rolls of the Red Terrace,
In vain you learn the "Method of Avoiding Food":
For naught you study the "Book of Alchemic Lore."
Though you sweat and toil, what shall your trouble bring?
You will only shorten the five-score years of your span.
Sad, alas, the man who dreamt of Fairies!
For a single dream spoiled his whole life.
- I.e., the Immortals.