Gems of Chinese Literature/Wên T‘ien-hsiang-Divinæ Particulam Auræ

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Gems of Chinese Literature  (1922)  translated by Herbert Allen Giles
Divinæ Particulam Auræ by Wên T‘ien-hsiang


a.d. 1236-1282

[The famous statesman and patriot, who, when finally held captive by Kublai Khan after the complete overthrow of the Sung dynasty, calmly faced death rather than own allegiance to the Mongol conqueror. The following beautiful morceau was penned in captivity, and cannot but fill us with admiration for the hero of whom the Chinese may proudly say, “Whatever record leaps to light, he never shall be shamed.”]


THERE is in the universe an Aura which permeates all things, and makes them what they are. Below, it shapes forth land and water; above, the sun and the stars. In man it is called spirit; and there is nowhere where it is not.

In times of national tranquillity, this spirit lies perdu in the harmony which prevails. Only at some great crisis is it manifested widely abroad. And as to these manifestations, those who run may read. Were there not the fearless and truthful annalists of old?[1] Was there not the disinterested chivalry of Chang Liang?[2] the unswerving devotion of Su Wu?[3] Did not Yen Yen[4] say they had headless generals in his district, but none who surrendered their allegiance? Was not an emperor's robe splashed with blood that might not be washed away?[5] And the teeth of Chang Hsün?[6]―the tongue of Yen Hsi?[6]―the guileless honesty of Kuan Ning,[7] pure as the clearest ice?―the martial genius of K‘ung Ming,[8] the admiration of Gods and men?―the oath of Tsu T‘i?[9]―the tablet dashed in the rebel's face?[10]

Such is this grand and glorious spirit which endureth for all generations, and which, linked with the sun and moon, knows neither beginning nor end. The foundation of all that is great and good in heaven and earth, it is itself born from the everlasting obligations which are due by man to man.

Alas! the fates were against me: I was without resource. Bound with fetters, hurried away towards the north, death would have been sweet indeed; but that boon was refused.

My dungeon is lighted by the will-o’-the-wisp alone: no breath of spring cheers the murky solitude in which I dwell. The ox and the barb herd together in one stall: the rooster and the phoenix feed together from one dish. Exposed to mist and dew, I had many times thought to die; and yet, through the seasons of two revolving years, disease hovered round me in vain. The dank unhealthy soil to me became Paradise itself. For there was that within me which misfortune could not steal away.[11] And so I remained firm, gazing at the white clouds floating over my head, and bearing in my heart a sorrow boundless as the sky.

The sun of those dead heroes has long since set; but their record is before me still. And, while the wind whistles under the eaves, I open my books and read; and lo! in their presence my heart glows with a borrowed fire.

Gems of Chinese Literature pg 296.png

  1. In allusion to certain murders which were denounced by the historiographers of the periods in question.
  2. Who, after setting an Emperor upon the throne, refused all reward, and retired into private life. See p. 62.
  3. Held prisoner by the Huns for the space of nineteen years. See Li Ling’s Reply, p. 80, The reference is to his “credentials,” from which he never allowed himself to be separated.
  4. In reply to the famous Chang Fei, who took him prisoner, but, in consequence of this bold answer, spared his life.
  5. The blood of Chi Shao, who died to save his Imperial master’s life.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Killed for their violent language in the presence of rebels by whom they had been taken prisoners.
  7. Who faithfully repaid all loans made to him while in exile.
  8. The famous general of the Story of the Three Kingdoms.
  9. As he was about to cross the Yellow River with troops in pursuit of an enemy―“If I do not succeed in purging the country of these men, may my blood flow away like this river!”
  10. By a virtuous official whose loyalty the said rebel was vainly striving to undermine.
  11. But there is that within me which shall tire

    Torture and Time; and breathe when I expire:

    Something unearthly.