Page:A history of Chinese literature - Giles.djvu/25

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Confucius himself attached the utmost importance to his labours in this direction. "Have you learned the Odes?" he inquired upon one occasion of his son; and on receiving an answer in the negative, immediately told the youth that until he did so he would be unfit for the society of intellectual men. Confucius may indeed be said to have anticipated the apophthegm attributed by Fletcher of Saltoun to a "very wise man," namely, that he who should be allowed to make a nation's "ballads need care little who made its laws." And it was probably this appreciation by Confucius that gave rise to an extraordinary literary craze in reference to these Odes. Early commentators, incapable of seeing the simple natural beauties of the poems, which have furnished endless household words and a large stock of phraseology to the language of the present day, and at the same time unable to ignore the deliberate judgment of the Master, set to work to read into countryside ditties deep moral and political significations. Every single one of the immortal Three Hundred has thus been forced to yield some hidden meaning and point an appropriate moral. If a maiden warns her lover not to be too rash—

"Don't come in, sir, please!
Don't break my willow-trees!
Not that that would very much grieve me;
But alack-a-day! what would my parents say?
And love you as I may,
I cannot bear to think what that would be,"—

commentators promptly discover that the piece refers to a feudal noble whose brother had been plotting against him, and to the excuses of the former for not visiting the latter with swift and exemplary punishment.