The Golden Flower

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‘Chrysanthemums’ 黃英 — ‘The Golden Flower’ — translated by John Minford from Pu Songling’s (蒲松齡, 1640-1715) Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio 聊齋誌異 is the latest addition to Nouvelle Chinoiserie 奇趣漢學 and Wairarapa Readings 白水札記 in China Heritage. These selections celebrate the variety and vibrancy of China’s literary heritage.

In Nouvelle Chinoiserie we introduce literary texts and translations aimed at students of traditional Chinese letters who are interested in the world that lies beyond the narrow confines and demands of contemporary institutional pedagogy. They also reflect the long-term interest of The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology in ‘cultivation’ 修養. Henceforth, Wairarapa Readings will be included in ‘Nouvelle Chinoiserie’ under Projects on the China Heritage site.

The translation is followed by a parallel text.

— The Editor
China Heritage
12 August 2018

***

Reading Strange Tales:


Introductory Note

Dull modern commentators (who needless to say, like Captain Hook, have enormous trouble ‘believing in fairies’) tend to see in this delightful tale an instance of the clash between the old fuddy-duddy views of the feudal upper class (obsessed with poverty and ‘doing the right thing’), and the up-and-coming entrepreneurial ‘new class’ of the late-Ming/early-Qing period (willing to ‘have a go’ on the burgeoning markets).

Others take the opportunity to discuss the correct ideological leanings of the poet Tao Yuanming (陶淵明, 365-427). Of course the brother and sister are of the Tao family, and ‘their ancestor’ Tao is there in the background (that is why I have added his lines at the beginning). But surely we are best advised to read ‘Chrysanthemums’ in the subtler light of Pu Songling himself, writing his postscript in the guise of ‘Chronicler of the Strange’ 異史氏. He begins with a reference to the Early Tang literatus Fu Yi (傅奕, 555-639), who in his own epitaph wrote: ‘Fu Yi loved the green hills and the white clouds. Alas! He died of drink.’ (Herbert Giles’ translation.) Fu did in fact die from an excess of drinking.

‘Others felt sorry for him,’ comments Pu Songling, ‘but perhaps he was happy to die drunk. And to have chrysanthemums such as these growing in one’s courtyard would be to have constantly before one’s eyes the vision of a true friend, and of a beautiful woman. Fine flowers such as these are surely to be appreciated!’ 世盡惜之,而未必不自以為快也。植此種於庭中,如見良友,如對麗人,不可不物色之也。

John Minford


Chrysanthemums

Pu Songling

Translated by John Minford

 

By the eastern hedge,
I pluck the flowers of the chrysanthemum,
Gazing long
At the southern hills.
Day and night,
The mountain air is fine;
The birds fly back to their nests.
There is a deep meaning in this,
But try to explain it,
And I am lost for words.

Tao Yuanming (365-427)

 

Ma Zicai was a man of Shuntian prefecture in the district of the capital Peking, whose family had been chrysanthemum-fanciers for generations. In Zicai the family passion had reached its peak. If he heard of some new and rare variety, he would stop at nothing to acquire a specimen, even if it meant travelling hundreds of miles.

Once he had a guest staying with him from Nanking, who mentioned that a cousin of his possessed a number of rare chrysanthemum varieties that were not to be found in the north. Ma’s passion was at once aroused. He packed his things and accompanied his guest back to Nanking. The man did his utmost to oblige Ma, and succeeded in procuring two chrysanthemum cuttings for him, which Ma carefully wrapped to take home, as if they were precious gems.

On his way, Ma came upon a young man on a mule following a carriage with green lacquered screens. He was a handsome, rather dashing young fellow, and when Ma went up and entered into conversation with him, he introduced himself as a Mr Tao. He had a most elegant manner and an engaging turn of phrase. When he enquired as to the nature of Ma’s trip to Nanking, Ma told him the whole story.

‘Every variety of chrysanthemum is beautiful in its own way,’ pronounced the young man. ‘It all depends on how well cultivated they are.’

This was followed by a short disquisition on the art of chrysanthemum cultivation, to which Ma listened with delight.

‘And where are you off to?’ he enquired of the young man.

‘My elder sister has wearied of Nanking, and wishes to move somewhere north of the River.’

‘Allow me,’ Ma put in enthusiastically, ‘to offer you both lodging in my humble abode. If you are willing to make do with the rustic quarters I can put at your disposal, it might at least save you the trouble of searching elsewhere.’

Tao went hurrying up to the carriage to consult with his sister. She pushed aside the carriage screens, and Ma beheld a young lady of some twenty summers, a peerless beauty.

She spoke to her brother:

‘I care not if the rooms are small, provided that the courtyard is spacious.’

Ma assured her that it would be so, and they all set off back together. To the south of his estate, there was a somewhat derelict garden, within which was set a little cottage. Tao liked it, and he and his sister took up residence there. Every day he came to visit Ma in his house, and tended his chrysanthemums for him. If any of the plants showed signs of withering, he dug them up and replanted them, and they all instantly revived.

Tao lived in great poverty. Every day he and his sister ate their meals with Ma, who observed that they never even lit a fire in their home. Ma’s wife, Madame Lü, became fond of Tao’s sister, and helped them out with quantities of grain now and then.

Tao’s sister was called Golden Flower. She enjoyed chatting, and would often drop in on Madame Lü and keep her company in her spinning and sewing.

One day Tao said to Ma:

‘You are not a wealthy man. I cannot possibly go on imposing on you like this. In future, I shall try my hand at selling chrysanthemums for a living.’

Ma had always had the strictest notions as to what constituted a proper livelihood for a gentleman, and he found this commercial proposal of Tao’s decidedly vulgar.

‘I took you for a man of spirit and high ideals,’ he protested, ‘someone able to live contentedly in poverty. And yet now you propose turning a flowerbed into a market-place, and will thereby bring disgrace on the flowers themselves!’

‘To live by the honest fruit of one’s labours is not greed,’ replied Tao, smiling amicably. ‘There’s nothing vulgar about selling flowers. I agree, one should never seek wealth at the price of honour, but equally one should not cling to poverty for its own sake.’

Ma was silent, and Tao rose and took his leave. From then on, whatever damaged or inferior plants Ma rejected, Tao would gather up and carry away. He no longer visited Ma every day, nor was he obliged to depend upon him for his daily meals, but still he went to call on him occasionally when invited.

A short while later, when the chrysanthemums were about to flower, Ma became aware of a great hubbub outside the gate of his estate, like a busy market-place. Out of curiosity he went to look, and found a throng of people buying flowers, and the thoroughfare packed with carriages and men carrying off their purchases. There were many unusual varieties of chrysanthemum for sale, ones that Ma had never seen before. He felt outraged by the vulgarity of it all, and resolved to break off relations with Tao once and for all. He also privately resented the fact that Tao had kept back all the best varieties for himself. He knocked at Tao’s door, intending to berate him soundly. Tao came out, took him by the hand, and led him calmly inside. The previously derelict half-acre courtyard around the cottage was now immaculately tended and planted with rows of chrysanthemums right up to the very walls of the building. Any plants that had been dug up had been replaced with new cuttings. The flowers were all of a superb quality, and Ma recognized them as ones he had himself discarded.

Tao went inside and returned with wine and some snacks, which he set out in the courtyard beside the flower beds.

‘I grew up poor, and never held with the idea of leading a pure and austere life,’ he said. ‘I have been lucky enough to make a little money during these past few days, enough for us to have a tipple or two together…’

In a little while, a voice called from the house.

‘Brother!’

‘Coming!’ he replied.

Tao went in, returning presently with an assortment of exquisitely cooked delicacies.

‘Tell me,’ said Ma, ‘why your sister is still unmarried?’

‘Her time has not yet come.’

‘What time do you mean by “her time”?’

‘The forty-third month,’ replied Tao mysteriously.

‘What does that mean?’ asked Ma, more puzzled than ever.

But Tao merely smiled. They drank to their hearts’ content and then Ma walked home. He called again the next day and observed that the previous day’s newly planted cuttings had already grown a foot in height. He marvelled greatly at this, and begged Tao to tell him his secret.

‘It’s not something that can be conveyed in words,’ said Tao. ‘Besides, you’ve never wanted to grow chrysanthemums for a living yourself, so why should you want to know?’

A few days later, when the bustle at his door had somewhat subsided, Tao wrapped his remaining plants in rush matting, loaded them onto a number of carts, and went on his way. He did not return until half way through the spring of the following year, when he appeared bearing a range of new varieties of chrysanthemum from the South. With these he set up a flower shop in the capital where his entire stock was sold out in ten days. Then he stayed at home to tend to his own flower-beds. His old customers of the previous year returned to purchase fresh plants, since the ones they bought previously had died back.

Tao grew daily more and more wealthy. One year he added a number of rooms to the cottage, another year he built himself a new house there altogether. He commenced projects such as these when the spirit moved him, without ever needing to consult his landlord Ma. Soon the little plot of land, that had been entirely taken up with flower-beds, had grown into a rambling estate. He bought another area of land outside the estate itself, walled it in on all sides, and planted that too with chrysanthemums. One autumn, he went off again with his carts laden, and by the end of the following spring there was still no sign of his return.

Meanwhile Ma’s wife fell ill and died. He contemplated marrying Tao’s sister Golden Flower, and intimated as much to her through an intermediary. She smiled, thereby implying her willingness. But they would have to wait for her brother’s return.

More than a year passed, and still there was still no sign of Tao. Golden Flower taught her servant to grow chrysanthemums according to Tao’s method, and with the profits she bought a plot in the countryside, over an acre of land, on which she built an imposing residence.

Then one day a stranger arrived from Canton province, bearing a letter from Tao in which he instructed his sister to go ahead and marry Ma. It transpired that the letter had been sent on the very day that Ma’s wife had died. And, to his even greater amazement, Ma calculated that this was exactly forty-three months from the day of that first party they had held in Tao’s garden, when he had asked Tao what he meant by ‘her time?’

Showing the letter to Golden Flower, he asked her where he should send the betrothal presents. She declared that she would not accept any such presents. And since his house was in such a dilapidated state, she wanted him to come and live with her in the new wing she had built to the south. This would seem as if he were marrying into her family, and he refused to do so, insisting instead on choosing an auspicious day on which to welcome his bride with proper ceremony into his own home.

When Golden Flower married Ma, she had a door made connecting his house with her southern wing, and she went back every day to give instructions to her servants. Ma was embarrassed by his wife’s wealth and was for ever urging her to keep separate accounts for the two households, so as to avoid any possible confusion. But she brought whatever she needed from her wing, and within half a year all of Tao’s things had found their way into Ma’s house. One day Ma ordered his servants to move everything back, and forbade them to bring anything over again. But despite this, before ten days had passed, their possessions were mingled as before. This happened so many times that Ma could simply not keep up with it.

‘Come on,’ joked Golden Flower, ‘aren’t you being altogether too pernickety?’

This embarrassed Ma still further. Eventually he gave up checking and left everything to her. Then she assembled men and materials for a new large-scale building enterprise, and Ma was unable to prevent her from proceeding. Several months later both wings were united in one rambling mansion interconnected with innumerable covered walkways. Out of respect for Ma, she closed her front gate, and ceased selling chrysanthemums. But they lived nonetheless in great luxury. Ma felt uneasy about this.

‘Thirty years I lived in honest poverty,’ he said to her, ‘before you came here. Now I am just an idle man, dependent on a woman for my daily food and comforts. There is not a drop of manhood left in me! Others may desire wealth; I only pray for my old life of poverty!’

‘I am not a greedy person,’ said Golden Flower. ‘But if I do not lay by a reasonable stock of wealth, future generations will say that my ancestor, the great poet Tao Yuanming, was a wretched fellow whose descendants had nothing left to show for themselves. So you see, I do this to save my ancestor from ridicule. But while it is hard for a poor man to attain the wealth he craves, for a rich man, it is the easiest thing in the world to become poor. You are welcome to squander our wealth; spend it all, I shall never complain.’

‘It is an ugly thing to squander money another has earned,’ rejoined Ma.

‘You do not desire wealth,’ said Golden Flower, ‘but I for my part cannot put up with poverty. We shall just have to lead separate lives. Let the pure be pure, and the dirty dirty. What harm can there be in that?’

So she built a thatched hut for Ma in the garden, and chose a pretty maid to wait on him there. At first Ma was content with this arrangement. But after a few days he found himself missing Golden Flower dreadfully. He asked her to join him in his hut, but she refused to go and he was left with no choice but to go to her, spending every other night in her bed.

‘You eat at home, and sleep abroad — there’s surely nothing very pure about that!’ she teased him, with a wry smile.

Ma smiled back at her, but could think of no suitable response. So he went back to live with her as before.

Now, one day business took Ma on a trip to Nanking. It was autumn, the chrysanthemum season. Early one morning he happened to walk past a flower shop, and saw a rich array of potted chrysanthemums on display, the very rarest varieties. In amazement, he recognized the handiwork: it bore all the hallmarks of Tao’s skill as horticulturist. And a little later out came the proprietor of the shop, who turned out indeed to be none other than Tao! Ma was overjoyed. They greeted each other happily and Ma stayed the night with his friend. He asked Tao to return home with him, but Tao declined the invitation:

‘Nanking is my home. I shall marry here. I have saved some money, which I should like you to take back to my sister. I’ll pay you a short visit towards the end of the year.’

Ma pleaded with him all the more earnestly to join them.

‘Your family is comfortably off now. Why don’t you just sit back and enjoy life. There’s no need for you to be a shopkeeper any more.’

As they sat there together in the shop, Tao went ahead and instructed his servants to reckon up the value of the plants he had in stock, keeping the prices as low as possible. He was able to sell them all in a few days, whereupon he promptly packed his bags and hired a boat to travel north with Ma.

On arrival they found that his sister had already prepared a separate compound and laid out bedding for her brother, as if she knew all along that he was on his way. Tao unpacked and gave his servants instructions to lay out an extensive pleasure garden with pavilions. He now spent his days drinking and playing Go with Ma, but refraining from making friends with any of the other guests who called on them from time to time. When Ma proposed a wife for him, he rejected the match. But Golden Flower assigned two maids to wait on him in his private quarters, and after three or four years one of them bore him a daughter.

Tao drank frequently, but was never seen to be inebriated. Ma had a friend called Zeng, who had a reputation for being able to drink anyone under the table. Once Ma invited Zeng and set the two of them to a drinking contest. They had a grand bout, and warmed to each other greatly, expressing their regret at having become friends so late in life. The drinking lasted from morning until the fourth watch of the night, by which time they each must have downed what seemed like a hundred jars of wine. Zeng finally collapsed in his chair in a drunken stupor. Tao rose to go to bed, but on his way stumbled into one of the beds of chrysanthemums. He toppled over, his clothes fell in a heap to one side, and he himself was transformed into an enormous chrysanthemum plant, tall as a man, with a dozen blooms each as large as a human fist. Ma was utterly astounded by the sight, and called for Golden Flower. She hurried over and pulled the plant out of the ground, saying:

‘Silly man! See how drunk you are!’

She dressed the plant in Tao’s clothes, and led Ma away, telling him to avert his gaze. When they returned in the morning, there was Tao the man lying prostrate beside of one of the flower beds.

Finally Ma understood the truth, that they were both of them, brother and sister, chrysanthemum spirits. It caused him to love them all the more, and to esteem them all the more highly.

Now that Tao had revealed his true identity to Ma, he began to drink more and more heavily. He was constantly inviting Zeng over, and the two of them became inseparable friends.

On the Festival of the Flowers, Zeng came to visit, accompanied by two of his servants carrying a large jar of liquor infused with herbs. He and Tao resolved to drink it to the dregs. Having done so, they were still not properly inebriated. Ma stealthily added another jar’s worth of liquor, and this they polished off with ease, by which time Zeng was dead drunk, and had to be carried home by his servants. Tao lay unconscious on the floor, where he was transformed once more into a chrysanthemum. This time Ma was less shocked, and pulled up the plant himself. He stood there beside it, waiting for the next transformation. But after a while the leaves all began to wither. Ma grew afraid, and went to find Golden Flower, who was aghast when she heard what had happened.

‘You have killed my brother!’ she cried.

She ran to look, and the entire plant, root and stalk, was by now quite withered. Heart-broken, she broke off a cutting and planted it in a pot, which she carried into her room and watered daily. Ma was desperate with remorse, while himself holding Zeng greatly to blame for the mishap. A few days later he heard the news that Zeng too had drunk himself to death.

The cutting in the pot began to sprout, and in the ninth month it bloomed. It had a short stem, and bore a pink flower, with a scent like wine. They called it ‘Tao the Drunkard’, in honour of the ancestor-poet who had so loved both chrysanthemums and wine. They watered it with wine, and it did very well.

When Tao’s daughter came of age, she married into a well-to-do family. Golden Flower lived to a ripe old age, and nothing untoward happened to her.

***

Autumn Chrysanthemums, by Xu Gu (虛谷, 朱懷仁, 1823-1896)

Parallel Text

Chrysanthemums 黃英

Pu Songling 蒲松齡

Translated by John Minford

 

By the eastern hedge,
I pluck the flowers of the chrysanthemum,
Gazing long
At the southern hills.
Day and night,
The mountain air is fine;
The birds fly back to their nests.
There is a deep meaning in this,
But try to explain it,
And I am lost for words.

 

採菊東籬下,
悠然見南山。

山氣日夕佳,
飛鳥相與還。

此中有真意,
欲辨已忘言。

— Tao Yuanming (陶淵明, 365-427)

 

Ma Zicai was a man of Shuntian prefecture in the district of the capital Peking, whose family had been chrysanthemum-fanciers for generations. In Zicai the family passion had reached its peak. If he heard of some new and rare variety, he would stop at nothing to acquire a specimen, even if it meant travelling hundreds of miles.

馬子才,順天人。世好菊,至才尤甚,聞有佳種必購之,千里不憚。

Once he had a guest staying with him from Nanking, who mentioned that a cousin of his possessed a number of rare chrysanthemum varieties that were not to be found in the north. Ma’s passion was at once aroused. He packed his things and accompanied his guest back to Nanking. The man did his utmost to oblige Ma, and succeeded in procuring two chrysanthemum cuttings for him, which Ma carefully wrapped to take home, as if they were precious gems.

一日有金陵客寓其家,自言其中表親有一二種,為北方所無。馬欣動,即刻治裝,從客至金陵。客多方為之營求,得兩芽,裹藏如寶。

On his way, Ma came upon a young man on a mule following a carriage with green lacquered screens. He was a handsome, rather dashing young fellow, and when Ma went up and entered into conversation with him, he introduced himself as a Mr Tao. He had a most elegant manner and an engaging turn of phrase. When he enquired as to the nature of Ma’s trip to Nanking, Ma told him the whole story.

歸至中途,遇一少年,跨蹇從油碧車,丰姿灑落。漸近與語,少年自言:陶姓。談言騷雅。因問馬所自來,實告之。

‘Every variety of chrysanthemum is beautiful in its own way,’ pronounced the young man. ‘It all depends on how well cultivated they are.’

This was followed by a short disquisition on the art of chrysanthemum cultivation, to which Ma listened with delight.

‘And where are you off to?’ he enquired of the young man.

‘My elder sister has wearied of Nanking, and wishes to move somewhere north of the River.’

‘Allow me,’ Ma put in enthusiastically, ‘to offer you both lodging in my humble abode. If you are willing to make do with the rustic quarters I can put at your disposal, it might at least save you the trouble of searching elsewhere.’

少年曰:種無不佳,培溉在人。因與論藝菊之法。馬大悅,問:將何往?答云:姊厭金陵,欲卜居於河朔耳。馬欣然曰:僕雖固貧,茅廬可以寄榻。不嫌荒陋,無煩他適。

Tao went hurrying up to the carriage to consult with his sister. She pushed aside the carriage screens, and Ma beheld a young lady of some twenty summers, a peerless beauty.

She spoke to her brother:

‘I care not if the rooms are small, provided that the courtyard is spacious.’

陶趨車前向姊咨稟,車中人推簾語,乃二十許絕世美人也。顧弟言:屋不厭卑,而院宜得廣。

Ma assured her that it would be so, and they all set off back together. To the south of his estate, there was a somewhat derelict garden, within which was set a little cottage. Tao liked it, and he and his sister took up residence there. Every day he came to visit Ma in his house, and tended his chrysanthemums for him. If any of the plants showed signs of withering, he dug them up and replanted them, and they all instantly revived.

馬代諾之,遂與俱歸。第南有荒圃,僅小室三四椽,陶喜居之。日過北院為馬治菊,菊已枯,拔根再植之,無不活。

Tao lived in great poverty. Every day he and his sister ate their meals with Ma, who observed that they never even lit a fire in their home. Ma’s wife, Madame Lü, became fond of Tao’s sister, and helped them out with quantities of grain now and then.

Tao’s sister was called Golden Flower. She enjoyed chatting, and would often drop in on Madame Lü and keep her company in her spinning and sewing.

然家清貧,陶日與馬共飲食,而察其家似不舉火。馬妻呂,亦愛陶姊,不時以升鬥饋恤之。陶姊小字黃英,雅善談,輒過呂所,與共紉績。

One day Tao said to Ma:

‘You are not a wealthy man. I cannot possibly go on imposing on you like this. In future, I shall try my hand at selling chrysanthemums for a living.’

Ma had always had the strictest notions as to what constituted a proper livelihood for a gentleman, and he found this commercial proposal of Tao’s decidedly vulgar.

‘I took you for a man of spirit and high ideals,’ he protested, ‘someone able to live contentedly in poverty. And yet now you propose turning a flowerbed into a market-place, and will thereby bring disgrace on the flowers themselves!’

‘To live by the honest fruit of one’s labours is not greed,’ replied Tao, smiling amicably. ‘There’s nothing vulgar about selling flowers. I agree, one should never seek wealth at the price of honour, but equally one should not cling to poverty for its own sake.’

Ma was silent, and Tao rose and took his leave.

陶一日謂馬曰:君家固不豐,僕日以口腹累知交,胡可為常!為今計,賣菊亦足謀生。馬素介,聞陶言,甚鄙之,曰:僕以君風流雅士,當能安貧;今作是論,則以東籬為市井,有辱黃花矣。」陶笑曰:自食其力不為貪,販花為業不為俗。人固不可苟求富,然亦不必務求貧也。馬不語,陶起而出。

From then on, whatever damaged or inferior plants Ma rejected, Tao would gather up and carry away. He no longer visited Ma every day, nor was he obliged to depend upon him for his daily meals, but still he went to call on him occasionally when invited.

自是馬所棄殘枝劣種,陶悉掇拾而去。由此不復就馬寢食,招之始一至。

A short while later, when the chrysanthemums were about to flower, Ma became aware of a great hubbub outside the gate of his estate, like a busy market-place. Out of curiosity he went to look, and found a throng of people buying flowers, and the thoroughfare packed with carriages and men carrying off their purchases. There were many unusual varieties of chrysanthemum for sale, ones that Ma had never seen before. He felt outraged by the vulgarity of it all, and resolved to break off relations with Tao once and for all. He also privately resented the fact that Tao had kept back all the best varieties for himself. He knocked at Tao’s door, intending to berate him soundly. Tao came out, took him by the hand, and led him calmly inside. The previously derelict half-acre courtyard around the cottage was now immaculately tended and planted with rows of chrysanthemums right up to the very walls of the building. Any plants that had been dug up had been replaced with new cuttings. The flowers were all of a superb quality, and Ma recognized them as ones he had himself discarded.

未幾菊將開,聞其門囂喧如市。怪之,過而窺焉,見市人買花者,車載肩負,道相屬也。其花皆異種,目所未睹。心厭其貪,欲與絕;而又恨其私秘佳種,遂款其扉,將就消讓。陶出,握手曳入。見荒庭半畝皆菊畦,數椽之外無曠土。劚去者,則折別枝插補之;其蓓蕾在畦者,罔不佳妙,而細認之,盡皆向所拔棄也。

Tao went inside and returned with wine and some snacks, which he set out in the courtyard beside the flower beds.

‘I grew up poor, and never held with the idea of leading a pure and austere life,’ he said. ‘I have been lucky enough to make a little money during these past few days, enough for us to have a tipple or two together…’

In a little while, a voice called from the house.

‘Brother!’

‘Coming!’ he replied.

Tao went in, returning presently with an assortment of exquisitely cooked delicacies.

‘Tell me,’ said Ma, ‘why your sister is still unmarried?’

‘Her time has not yet come.’

‘What time do you mean by “her time”?’

‘The forty-third month,’ replied Tao mysteriously.

‘What does that mean?’ asked Ma, more puzzled than ever.

But Tao merely smiled. They drank to their hearts’ content and then Ma walked home.

陶入室,出酒饌,設席畦側,曰:僕貧不能守清戒,連朝幸得微資,頗足供醉。少間,房中呼三郎,陶諾而去。俄獻佳餚,烹飪良精。因問:貴姊胡以不字?答云:時未至。問:何時?曰:四十三月。又詰:何說?但笑不言,盡歡始散。

He called again the next day and observed that the previous day’s newly planted cuttings had already grown a foot in height. He marvelled greatly at this, and begged Tao to tell him his secret.

‘It’s not something that can be conveyed in words,’ said Tao. ‘Besides, you’ve never wanted to grow chrysanthemums for a living yourself, so why should you want to know?’

A few days later, when the bustle at his door had somewhat subsided, Tao wrapped his remaining plants in rush matting, loaded them onto a number of carts, and went on his way. He did not return until half way through the spring of the following year, when he appeared bearing a range of new varieties of chrysanthemum from the South. With these he set up a flower shop in the capital where his entire stock was sold out in ten days. Then he stayed at home to tend to his own flower-beds. His old customers of the previous year returned to purchase fresh plants, since the ones they bought previously had died back.

過宿又詣之,新插者已盈尺矣。大奇之,苦求其術,陶曰:此固非可言傳;且君不以謀生,焉用此?又數日,門庭略寂,陶乃以蒲席包菊,捆載數車而去。逾歲,春將半,始載南中異卉而歸,於都中設花肆,十日盡售,復歸藝菊。問之去年買花者,留其根,次年盡變而劣,乃復購於陶。

Tao grew daily more and more wealthy. One year he added a number of rooms to the cottage, another year he built himself a new house there altogether. He commenced projects such as these when the spirit moved him, without ever needing to consult his landlord Ma. Soon the little plot of land, that had been entirely taken up with flower-beds, had grown into a rambling estate. He bought another area of land outside the estate itself, walled it in on all sides, and planted that too with chrysanthemums. One autumn, he went off again with his carts laden, and by the end of the following spring there was still no sign of his return.

Meanwhile Ma’s wife fell ill and died. He contemplated marrying Tao’s sister Golden Flower, and intimated as much to her through an intermediary. She smiled, thereby implying her willingness. But they would have to wait for her brother’s return.

陶由此日富。一年增捨,二年起夏屋。興作從心,更不謀諸主人。漸而舊日花畦,盡為廊捨。更於牆外買田一區,築墉四周,悉種菊。至秋載花去,春盡不歸。而馬妻病卒。意屬黃英,微使人風示之。黃英微笑,意似允許,惟專候陶歸而已。

More than a year passed, and still there was still no sign of Tao. Golden Flower taught her servant to grow chrysanthemums according to Tao’s method, and with the profits she bought a plot in the countryside, over an acre of land, on which she built an imposing residence.

年余陶竟不至。黃英課僕種菊,一如陶。得金益合商賈,村外治膏田二十頃,甲第益壯。

Then one day a stranger arrived from Canton province, bearing a letter from Tao in which he instructed his sister to go ahead and marry Ma. It transpired that the letter had been sent on the very day that Ma’s wife had died. And, to his even greater amazement, Ma calculated that this was exactly forty-three months from the day of that first party they had held in Tao’s garden, when he had asked Tao what he meant by ‘her time?’.

Showing the letter to Golden Flower, he asked her where he should send the betrothal presents. She declared that she would not accept any such presents. And since his house was in such a dilapidated state, she wanted him to come and live with her in the new wing she had built to the south. This would seem as if he were marrying into her family, and he refused to do so, insisting instead on choosing an auspicious day on which to welcome his bride with proper ceremony into his own home.

忽有客自東粵來,寄陶生函信,發之,則囑姊歸馬。考其寄書之日,即馬妻死之日;回憶國中之飲,適四十三月也,大奇之。以書示英,請問「致聘何所」。英辭不受採。又以故居陋,欲使就南第居,若贅焉。馬不可,擇日行親迎禮。

When Golden Flower married Ma, she had a door made connecting his house with her southern wing, and she went back every day to give instructions to her servants. Ma was embarrassed by his wife’s wealth and was for ever urging her to keep separate accounts for the two households, so as to avoid any possible confusion. But she brought whatever she needed from her wing, and within half a year all of Tao’s things had found their way into Ma’s house. One day Ma ordered his servants to move everything back, and forbade them to bring anything over again. But despite this, before ten days had passed, their possessions were mingled as before. This happened so many times that Ma could simply not keep up with it.

‘Come on,’ joked Golden Flower, ‘aren’t you being altogether too pernickety?’

This embarrassed Ma still further. Eventually he gave up checking and left everything to her.

黃英既適馬,於間壁開扉通南第,日過課其僕。馬恥以妻富,恆囑黃英作南北籍,以防淆亂。而家所需,黃英輒取諸南第。不半歲,家中觸類皆陶家物。馬立遣人一一賫還之,戒勿復取。未浹旬又雜之。凡數更,馬不勝煩。黃英笑曰:陳仲子毋乃勞乎?馬慚,不復稽,一切聽諸黃英。

Then she assembled men and materials for a new large-scale building enterprise, and Ma was unable to prevent her from proceeding. Several months later both wings were united in one rambling mansion interconnected with innumerable covered walkways. Out of respect for Ma, she closed her front gate, and ceased selling chrysanthemums. But they lived nonetheless in great luxury. Ma felt uneasy about this.

‘Thirty years I lived in honest poverty,’ he said to her, ‘before you came here. Now I am just an idle man, dependent on a woman for my daily food and comforts. There is not a drop of manhood left in me! Others may desire wealth; I only pray for my old life of poverty!’

‘I am not a greedy person,’ said Golden Flower. ‘But if I do not lay by a reasonable stock of wealth, future generations will say that my ancestor, the great poet Tao Yuanming, was a wretched fellow whose descendants had nothing left to show for themselves. So you see, I do this to save my ancestor from ridicule. But while it is hard for a poor man to attain the wealth he craves, for a rich man, it is the easiest thing in the world to become poor. You are welcome to squander our wealth; spend it all, I shall never complain.’

‘It is an ugly thing to squander money another has earned,’ rejoined Ma.

‘You do not desire wealth,’ said Golden Flower, ‘but I for my part cannot put up with poverty. We shall just have to lead separate lives. Let the pure be pure, and the dirty dirty. What harm can there be in that?’

鳩工庀料,土木大作,馬不能禁。經數月,樓捨連垣,兩第竟合為一,不分疆界矣。然遵馬教,閉門不復業菊,而享用過於世家。馬不自安,曰:僕三十年清德,為卿所累。今視息人間,徒依裙帶而食,真無一毫丈夫氣矣。人皆祝富,我但祝窮耳!黃英曰:「妾非貪鄙;但不少致豐盈,遂令千載下人,謂淵明貧賤骨,百世不能發跡,故聊為我家彭澤解嘲耳。然貧者願富為難,富者求貧固亦甚易。床頭金任君揮去之,妾不靳也。馬曰:捐他人之金,抑亦良醜。英曰:君不願富,妾亦不能貧也。無已,析君居:清者自清,濁者自濁,何害?

So she built a thatched hut for Ma in the garden, and chose a pretty maid to wait on him there. At first Ma was content with this arrangement. But after a few days he found himself missing Golden Flower dreadfully. He asked her to join him in his hut, but she refused to go and he was left with no choice but to go to her, spending every other night in her bed.

‘You eat at home, and sleep abroad – there’s surely nothing very pure about that!’ she teased him, with a wry smile.

Ma smiled back at her, but could think of no suitable response. So he went back to live with her as before.

乃於園中築茅茨,擇美婢往侍馬。馬安之。然過數日,苦念黃英。招之不肯至,不得已反就之。隔宿輒至以為常。黃英笑曰:東食西宿,廉者當不如是。馬亦自笑無以對,遂復合居如初。

Now, one day business took Ma on a trip to Nanking. It was autumn, the chrysanthemum season. Early one morning he happened to walk past a flower shop, and saw a rich array of potted chrysanthemums on display, the very rarest varieties. In amazement, he recognized the handiwork: it bore all the hallmarks of Tao’s skill as horticulturist. And a little later out came the proprietor of the shop, who turned out indeed to be none other than Tao! Ma was overjoyed. They greeted each other happily and Ma stayed the night with his friend. He asked Tao to return home with him, but Tao declined the invitation:

‘Nanking is my home. I shall marry here. I have saved some money, which I should like you to take back to my sister. I’ll pay you a short visit towards the end of the year.’

Ma pleaded with him all the more earnestly to join them.

‘Your family is comfortably off now. Why don’t you just sit back and enjoy life. There’s no need for you to be a shopkeeper any more.’

As they sat there together in the shop, Tao went ahead and instructed his servants to reckon up the value of the plants he had in stock, keeping the prices as low as possible. He was able to sell them all in a few days, whereupon he promptly packed his bags and hired a boat to travel north with Ma.

On arrival they found that his sister had already prepared a separate compound and laid out bedding for her brother, as if she knew all along that he was on his way.

會馬以事客金陵,適逢菊秋。早過花肆,見肆中盆列甚繁,款朵佳勝、心動,疑類陶制。少間主人出,果陶也。喜極,具道契闊,遂止宿焉。要之歸,陶曰:金陵吾故土,將婚於是。積有薄資,煩寄吾姊。我歲杪當暫去。馬不聽,請之益苦。且曰:家幸充盈,但可坐享,無須復賈。坐肆中,使僕代論價,廉其直,數日盡售。逼促囊裝,賃舟遂北,入門,則姊已除捨,床榻裀褥皆設,若預知弟也歸者。

Tao unpacked and gave his servants instructions to lay out an extensive pleasure garden with pavilions. He now spent his days drinking and playing Go with Ma, but refraining from making friends with any of the other guests who called on them from time to time. When Ma proposed a wife for him, he rejected the match. But Golden Flower assigned two maids to wait on him in his private quarters, and after three or four years one of them bore him a daughter.

陶自歸,解裝課役,大修亭園,惟日與馬共棋酒,更不復結一客。為之擇婚,辭不願。姊遣二婢侍其寢處,居三四年中一女。

Tao drank frequently, but was never seen to be inebriated. Ma had a friend called Zeng, who had a reputation for being able to drink anyone under the table. Once Ma invited Zeng and set the two of them to a drinking contest. They had a grand bout, and warmed to each other greatly, expressing their regret at having become friends so late in life. The drinking lasted from morning until the fourth watch of the night, by which time they each must have downed what seemed like a hundred jars of wine. Zeng finally collapsed in his chair in a drunken stupor. Tao rose to go to bed, but on his way stumbled into one of the beds of chrysanthemums. He toppled over, his clothes fell in a heap to one side, and he himself was transformed into an enormous chrysanthemum plant, tall as a man, with a dozen blooms each as large as a human fist. Ma was utterly astounded by the sight, and called for Golden Flower. She hurried over and pulled the plant out of the ground, saying:

‘Silly man! See how drunk you are!’

She dressed the plant in Tao’s clothes, and led Ma away, telling him to avert his gaze. When they returned in the morning, there was Tao the man lying prostrate beside of one of the flower beds.

Finally Ma understood the truth, that they were both of them, brother and sister, chrysanthemum spirits. It caused him to love them all the more, and to esteem them all the more highly.

陶飲素豪,從不見其沈醉。有友人曾生,量亦無對。適過馬,馬使與陶相較飲。二人縱飲甚歡,相得恨晚。自辰以迄四漏,計各盡百壺。曾爛醉如泥,沈睡座間。陶起歸寢,出門踐菊畦,玉山傾倒,委衣於側,即地化為菊,高如人;花十餘朵,皆大如拳。馬駭絕,告黃英。英急往,拔置地上,曰:胡醉至此!覆以衣,要馬俱去,戒勿視。既明而往,則陶臥畦邊。馬乃悟姊弟皆菊精也,益敬愛之。

Now that Tao had revealed his true identity to Ma, he began to drink more and more heavily. He was constantly inviting Zeng over, and the two of them became inseparable friends.

On the Festival of the Flowers, Zeng came to visit, accompanied by two of his servants carrying a large jar of liquor infused with herbs. He and Tao resolved to drink it to the dregs. Having done so, they were still not properly inebriated. Ma stealthily added another jar’s worth of liquor, and this they polished off with ease, by which time Zeng was dead drunk, and had to be carried home by his servants. Tao lay unconscious on the floor, where he was transformed once more into a chrysanthemum. This time Ma was less shocked, and pulled up the plant himself. He stood there beside it, waiting for the next transformation. But after a while the leaves all began to wither. Ma grew afraid, and went to find Golden Flower, who was aghast when she heard what had happened.

‘You have killed my brother!’ she cried.

She ran to look, and the entire plant, root and stalk, was by now quite withered. Heart-broken, she broke off a cutting and planted it in a pot, which she carried into her room and watered daily. Ma was desperate with remorse, while himself holding Zeng greatly to blame for the mishap.

而陶自露跡,飲益放,恆自折柬招曾,因與莫逆。值花朝,曾乃造訪,以兩僕舁藥浸白酒一壇,約與共盡。壇將竭,二人猶未甚醉。馬潛以一瓶續入之,二人又盡之。曾醉已憊,諸僕負之以去。陶臥地,又化為菊。馬見慣不驚,如法拔之,守其旁以觀其變。久之,葉益憔悴。大懼,始告黃英。英聞駭曰:殺吾弟矣!奔視之,根株已枯。痛絕,掐其梗,埋盆中,攜入閨中,日灌溉之。馬悔恨欲絕,甚怨曾。

A few days later he heard the news that Zeng too had drunk himself to death.

The cutting in the pot began to sprout, and in the ninth month it bloomed. It had a short stem, and bore a pink flower, with a scent like wine. They called it ‘Tao the Drunkard’, in honour of the ancestor-poet who had so loved both chrysanthemums and wine. They watered it with wine, and it did very well.

越數日,聞曾已醉死矣。盆中花漸萌,九月既開,短乾粉朵,嗅之有酒香,名之醉陶,澆以酒則茂。

When Tao’s daughter came of age, she married into a well-to-do family. Golden Flower lived to a ripe old age, and nothing untoward happened to her.

後女長成,嫁於世家。黃英終老、亦無他異。