Seven Tales of the India Traders: The Fourth Day

Told on the fourth day, after Liang-chieh’s Story of the Third Day

redbirdJi-Yuan’s Story

Another day in the high lands – nothing but moss, shrubs and cedar. The cedar are truly like tall sentinels. Perhaps they look after me for my wife! You ask what I mean? They remind me of my story.  I bring it from the temples in the Himalayan foothills. I spend many days there and often not a single word is spoken. However, there is one monk named Sanpud who loves to talk and loves to tell a story. He said to me: ‘Here is one that tells why certain trees, the evergreens, never lose their leaves in autumn.’

The River Wife

Ti-Ling married to Tung-Po when she was only fourteen. Their love was never in doubt. Ti-Ling had wooed him with her flowers and Tung-Po wooed her with his poems. He wrote them on green paper. He nick-named his little wife the plum-blossom. He said the poems on the green paper were like leaves. “Flowers cannot blossom,” he said, “if they do not have enough leaves.” Ti-Ling put his poems in a cracked tea kettle. She sometimes threw tea leaves inside with the poetry. Her husband teased her. He said: “You are going to make tea out of my love.”  She answered: “It is so our love will not become bitter.”

The fame of Tung-Po’s poetry increased. “I must go,” he said one day, “there are great men in the city who wish to hear my poetry.” Next to their little house was the river Kiang and their boat which was their only other possession. Tung-Po climbed into the boat the next day. Ti-Ling gave him blue plums and boiled rice to take with him. Tung-Po said to her: “I will return before the leaves change their color.” Ti-Ling wept. She undid her beautiful black hair, letting it fall about her shoulders as a sign sorrow. When she returned to her house, she went to the tea kettle and took out the first poem she touched. She read it.

When I first learned to cut swords from bamboo
I did not want to play with you in your mother’s shadow pulling flowers.
If I am too old someday to even cut goose-foot for my cane
Who will still pull flowers for me but you?

Tung-Po returned before the changing of the leaves. There had been no rain. She said to him: “Our spring-bed is dry and lies in brown duck-weed.” “We have two pails,” Tung-Po answered, “and together we will take water from the river.” When they had watered their wheat and mulberries Tung-Po wrote her a new poem for her tea kettle. “I met a farmer,” he said to her as he wrote, “who said it is best not to let the seedlings shoot up too fast if you want good dumpling flour; we should let a sheep or cow graze in our wheat.” He put the new poem into her kettle and smiled saying: “But a cow and sheep is not what my poem is about.”

They might have lived happily on so little but one day he said again to his wife: “Great men wish to hear me read my poetry.” She answered: “Why should you go? At fourteen I mingled my life with yours forever. What is a great man to this?” But Tung-Po said to her: “I will return even while the leaves are still green.” “The moss will grow on the garden path,” she answered, “because two feet alone cannot keep a path.” Yet Tung-Po climbed into the boat the next day. Ti-Ling gave him rice and dried fish. “Tell me beforehand,” Ti-Ling said, “when you will return and I will pick jujubes for you.” She returned to her house when she could no longer see him past the narrows of the river. She took a new poem from her tea kettle. She read.

The spring’s dry bed is papered with cracked duckweed.
You and I must carry buckets from the river into the fields.
Will our souls also mingle like the water from our buckets
When we pour them out – you and I?

Ti-Ling wept when she read this. It was her favorite poem. She gathered the jujubes as they ripened, awaiting word from Tung-Po. When he did not return with the changing of the leaves she wrote him a letter though she did not know where to send it. ‘The rushes are dry,’ she wrote, ‘and sigh when the wind touches them.’ When winter passed, spring and then another summer, Ti-Ling cut her beautiful hair and would not let it grow back. She wrote him another letter: You said a plum blossom needs leaves if it hopes to bloom – have you forgotten?

When another autumn came Ti-Ling wrote: You said you would return while the leaves were green but how can I wait through another winter? She took the green slips of paper from her tea-kettle and tied them to the trees. And as the years passed she returned to the slips of paper she had already tied and cut them into needle-like slivers and tied the slivers to more trees until it seemed the trees were always green. When Ti-Ling was too old to see the slivers of paper, she lay down beneath one of the trees and did not waken. Yet the trees did not lose their leaves. They became the evergreens and still wait for Tung-Po.

Here Ends Ji-Yuan’s Tale

Followed by Lon Po’s Tale on the Fifth Day

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