square of earth – III

Square of Earth
In ancient Chinese cosmology the earth was symbolised by a square and heaven by a circle.  Each of these four pieces ( ‘corner songs’ I call them) in the ‘Square of Earth’ represent an emotional variation on the theme of my leaving Beijing after living there 13 years to return to New Zealand. They also reflect my taking the moods of any leaving as simply a rehearsal for the great final departure.
 

Square of Earth – III
this is the corner song of affection

author
the author as a younger man, snapped in front of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, Qiniandian, 祈年殿

temple of heaven*

the cypresses
in that park
with their
hour hand
of shadow
like shaggy
clocks winding
round the
the centuries
struck from
north or
south-east
in sun’s
first
toll
i stood
a twig of
time
between
them
once and
once again
felt along
their bark
the ancient
tortoise**
cracks
divining
the old
only the old

the omens
given then
a fall of state
best cavalry
manoeuvre
walled into
the fade
of things
simply
as they
were.

november 2011
beijing

Copyright © 2011 Peter Le Baige. All Rights Reserved

the author has a younger man, snapped in front of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, Qiniandian, 祈年殿
*In Chinese ‘Tiantan (天坛)’; here I refer to the principal round building, often referenced in English as ‘Temple of Heaven’..  It is in fact ‘The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest’ (祈年殿)where the emperor prayed for a full harvest each year; The Chinese name‘Tiantan’ refers to the whole complex of structures at this location and the park enclosing it with its hundreds of cypresses trees, some up to 800 years old. No other place in Beijing holds such a feeling for me of the forgivingness and even tenderness of age.

**refers to the ancient divinatory practice of heating a marked tortoise shell and interpreting the resulting cracks.

The music is from a performance of the traditional piece for Guqin, ‘Plum Blossoms in three overtone variants’,梅花三弄, performed here by the Quqin player Cai Shan.  The guqin entablature for the piece was first recorded in 1495, having been originally composed at an earlier date (unknown) for flute.

cypresses_tiantan
Cypresses in Tiantan Park, some up to 800 years old, with acknowledgements to tour-beijing.com for use of this image

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