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Ode to the Cold Cave Dwelling..........Lü Mengzheng

2023-03-25 01:26Source:Chinese Literature Translation










Ode to the Cold Cave Dwelling

Lü Mengzheng

  A storm may arise from a clear sky at any time; a man’s fate is as uncertain as the changeable weather. The centipede has as many as a hundred feet, but it cannot move as fast as the snake. The rooster also has two wings but it cannot fly as high as the crow. Although a fine horse can gallop a thousand miles a day, it cannot leave and return without a rider. If one has great ambition, without opportunity he is unable to achieve it.

  It is often said that a man should remain abstemious when he is rich and powerful, and should not change his aspiration even when he is in poverty. Confucius wrote more wonderful articles than the rest of the world, but he was trapped in the State of Chen. Jiang Ziya was expert at military stratagem but had to wait for his opportunity by fishing on the Weishui River. Confucius’ student Yan Hui died early, yet he was by no means a vicious man. Though Daozhi lived long, he was not a kind person at all. Emperors Yao and Shun were wise and sagacious, but they had unworthy sons. Shun’s father Gusou was obstinate and foolish, yet he begot such a filial son as Shun. Zhang Liang was just a commoner, and Xiao He was a mere county official. Yan Zi was less than five feet tall, yet he was appointed prime minister of the State of Qi. Previously living in a thatched hut, Zhuge Kongming served as Shu’s military adviser. Although Xiang Yu was powerful and mighty, he ended up slashing his own throat at Wujiang River. Liu Bang, though weak at first, eventually became the ruler of the land under heaven. Although Li Guang was famous for shooting an arrow deep into a tiger-shaped stone, he was never granted the title of nobility. Feng Tang had the ability to govern the country and ensure its security, but he was never given any chance. Han Xin could not have three meals a day when he had no opportunity. When the opportunity came, he became a military general bearing the tiger-shaped tally. Once he was out of favor, he died of vicious people’s schemes.

  Some were poor before they became rich, while others realized their aspirations in old age after being down and out when young. Some read so many famous articles but never came out successful in imperial examinations, not even at a hoary age. A man of little learning had his name announced on the list of successful candidates. Imperial concubines and maids in the deep palace were reduced to prostitutes, while a sleazy whore became a worthy lady when her luck turned.

  Beautiful young girls tend to marry foolish husbands, whereas handsome young men often match with ugly wives. When a flood dragon has no opportunity, it can do nothing but hide between fish and turtles. When a gentleman has got no chance, he can only condescend to obey a mean person. One may wear shabby clothes, but he should always keep respectful and decent manners; one’s face may reveal his worries, but he should bear his ambition in mind to serve the country. When one is not successful, he should only be content with poverty and stay at his own place; If one keeps an open heart, he can certainly hold his head high one day. A gentleman in poverty keeps his self-esteem, while an upstart cannot get rid of his poverty of heart.

  When the weather is bad, neither the sun nor the moon shines; nothing will grow when the land does not have the suitable climate. If rivers do not meet the right time, turbulent waves can be raised. If one does not get the opportunity, good luck will not come his way. Blessing and fortune are predestined, and who does not wish for a high rank and honor? If one does not live on the basis of eight virtues, how can one become a high official or prime minister?

  In the past, when I lived in Luoyang, I used to go to a temple to eat monks’ free meals during the day and live in a dilapidated cave dwelling at nigh. The clothes I wore did not completely cover my body, and the porridge I ate failed to ward off my hunger. People of the upper class detested me, and those of the lower class loathed me; everyone said I was mean and all tried to shun me. Now I am an official in the imperial court, and I have reached the highest level of the Three Top Ministers, only below the Emperor but above ten million people. I have the privilege to flog the officials and the power to have the most hated villains executed. I own a thousand cases of silk and satin garments, and I can eat all delicacies from mountains and seas. Warriors protect me when I go out, and beautiful girls serve me wine when I return home. The Emperor dotes on me, all the officials support me. People all say I am noble; it is not that I have much ability, but that I meet the right time and have the opportunity predestined by fate.

  Ah! When we live in the world, we should not expend all our fortune and honors, nor give ourselves up if we are in poverty or of low status. Let’s just follow the cycle of the movement of heaven and earth, and wait for the right time to come.

Translated by Jin Deming