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13. Song of Four Laments
- Shang mode,2 standard tuning: 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
四思歌 1
Si Si Ge    
  Luoyang and the four "fair ones" (expand) 3  
Tablature for the qin melody Song of Four Laments survives only in two identical publications, dated 1597 and 1611.4 The "laments" of the title is a word commonly used to mean "thinking", but also in the sense of "longing"; the lyrics themselves are a set of four poems (or a poem of four verses) written by the renowned polymath and poet Zhang Heng (78 - 139).5 There entitled Four-Fold Sorrows (Si Chou Shi),6 they are thought to be amongst the earliest known examples of seven-character per line verses.7 They were included in several ancient collections, and under the title of the original poem were also published in 1618 set to an entirely different qin melody.8 The poems have also been translated into English elsewhere.9

The four laments are for four "meiren" ("fair ones"): loved ones absent in the four directions. Traditional interpretations suggest that the narrator is a man and the absent friends are women, perhaps lovers or former lovers.10 These four absent fair ones are located as follows,

  1. To the east at Mount Tai (Taishan, in Shandong province), with Liangfu mountain as a barrier.
  2. To the south in Guilin, with the Xiang River as a barrier.
  3. To the west in Hanyang (a Han commandery east of Lanzhou in modern Gansu11), with Longban (Longshan, a mountain range west of Chang'an) as a barrier.
  4. To the north at Yanmen pass, at the west end of the Hengshan mountains in northern Shaanxi, with snow as a barrier.
These locations suggest that the narrator is in the Eastern Han capital, Luoyang. Luoyang is in modern Henan province, and Zhang Heng was from Henan.

Structurally each poem has 7 lines, with 7 characters per line, but here each verse of the song begins with an announcement of that verse, making each verse of the song seem to have eight lines.12 Giving the text further structure, the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th and 8th line of each verse begins the same, with only the final one to three characters of each line changed between poems; meanwhile line 4 of each verse also has almost the same text, with only the 4th and the last characters changed. The song ends with a coda in harmonics that repeats the last line of the final verse. My initial reconstruction of the melody attempts to carry this structure over by making the rhythm of each verse as similar to that of the others as possible.13

Original Preface
There is only the attribution at front to Zhang Ping, i.e., Zhang Heng; no mention of the melody. The preface in 1618 discusses Zhang Heng.

Melody and Lyrics (timings follow my recording)
A largely syllabic setting dividing the original text into four sections;14 the words in brackets are not in the original poem.

     00.00                   Prelude (added: like the final seven notes, but played in harmonics)
  1.  00.11  
    (一思曰﹕               The first lament says,)
        Yī sī yuē:    
    我所思兮在泰山,   The one I lament is at Mount Tai;
        Wǒ suǒ sī xī zài Tài Shān,
    欲往從之梁父艱。   I would like to go be there but Liangfu Mountain is hard to cross.
        Yù wǎng cóng zhī Liáng Fù jiān.
    側身東望涕沾翰。   As I turn to look east, tears wet my pen.
        Cè shēn dōng wàng tì zhān hàn.
    美人贈我金錯刀,   My fair one has sent me a golden inlaid dagger (coin).
        Měi rén zèng wǒ jīn cuò dāo,
    何以報之英瓊瑤。   Is this recompensed by the beautiful jade (I sent)?
        Hé yǐ bào zhī yīng qióng yáo.
    路遠莫致倚逍遙,   It is too far to get there, so I just wander about.
        Lù yuǎn mò zhì yǐ xiāo yáo,
    何為煩憂心煩勞?   Why should I be depressed and weary at heart?
        Hé wèi fǎn yōu xīn fán láo?

  2.  00.58
    (二思曰﹕               The second lament says,)
        Èr sī yuē﹕
    我所思兮在桂林,   The one I lament is in Guilin;
        Wǒ suǒ sī xī zài Guìlín,
    欲往從之湘水深。   I would like to go be there but the Xiang River is deep.
        Yù wǎng cóng zhī Xiāng Shuǐ shēn.
    側身南望涕沾襟。   As I turn to look south, tears wet my collar.
        Cè shēn nán wàng tì zhān jīn.
    美人贈我琴琅玕,   My fair one has sent me a qin (ornamented with) gemstone-jade.(Should 琴 be 金?15)
        Měi rén zèng wǒ qín láng gān,
    何以報之雙玉盤。   Is this recompensed by the pair of jade vessels (I sent)?
        Hé yǐ bào zhī shuāng yù pán.
    路遠莫致倚惆悵,   It is too far to get there, so I remain reproachful.
        Lù yuǎn mò zhì yǐ chóu chàng,
    何為煩憂心煩怏?   Why should I be depressed and discontented?
        Hé wèi fǎn yōu xīn fán yàng?

  3.  01.44
    (三思曰﹕               The third lament says,)
        Sān sī yuē﹕
    我所思兮在漢陽,   The one I lament is in Hanyang,
        Wǒ suǒ sī xī zài Hànyáng,
    欲往從之隴阪長。   I would like to go be there but the Longban (Mountains) are broad.
        Yù wǎng cóng zhī Lǒng Bǎn zhǎng.
    側身西望涕沾裳。   As I turn to look west, tears wet my lower garments.
        Cè shēn xī wàng tì zhān shang.
    美人贈我貂襜褕,   My fair one has sent me sable: a short cloak.
        Měi rén zèng wǒ diāo chān yú,
    何以報之明月珠。   Is this recompensed by the bright round pearl (I sent)?
        Hé yǐ bào zhī míng yuè zhū.
    路遠莫致倚踟躕,   It is too far to get there, so remain indecisive.
        Lù yuǎn mò zhì yǐ chí chú,
    何為煩憂心煩紆?   Why should I be depressed and fretful?
        Hé wèi fǎn yōu xīn fán yū?

  4.  02.28
    (四思曰﹕               The fourth lament says,)
        Sì sī yuē
    我所思兮在雁門,   The one I lament is at Yanmen Pass,
        Wǒ suǒ sī xī zài Yàn Mén,
    欲往從之雪雰雰。   I would like to go be there but the snow falls too heavily.
        Yù wǎng cóng zhī xuě fēn fēn.
    側身北望涕沾巾。   As I turn to look north, tears wet my handkerchief.
        Cè shēn běi wàng tì zhān jīn.
    美人贈我錦繡段,   My fair one has sent me brocade: an elegant swath.
        Měi rén zèng wǒ jǐn xiù duàn,
    何以報之清玉案。   Is this recompensed by the jade table (I sent)?
        Hé yǐ bào zhī qīng yù àn.
    路遠莫致倚增嘆,   It is too far to get there, so I just sigh more and more.
        Lù yuǎn mò zhì yǐ zēng tàn,
    何為煩憂心煩惋?   Why should I be depressed and disappointed?
        Hé wèi fǎn yōu xīn fán wǎn?

    (尾聲,泛音           Coda, in harmonics, repeats previous line)
    何為煩憂心煩惋?   Why should I be depressed and disappointed?
        Hé wèi fǎn yōu xīn fán wǎn?

     03.29 (end)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 四思歌 Si Si Ge (QQJC VII/49)
4782.xxx; 思歌 10734.xxx

2. Shang mode (商調 shang diao)
For more on 商調 shang mode see Shenpin Shang Yi and Modality in early Ming qin tablature. (Return)

3. Luoyang and the four "fair ones"
Adapted from Google maps (expand), which of course have only the modern place names.

4. Zha Guide 28/--/430 (QQJC VII/47 and VIII/55) (Return)

5. 張衡 Zhang Heng (78 - 139; Wiki)
Here is is referred to as 張平 Zhang Ping. Bio/1251 and 10026.1420 張衡 Zhang Heng have three or four people, but the relevant one is the earliest, a Han dynasty literatus 字平子,西鄂人 style name Pingzi, from Western E ("Xi Ao"?) in the 南陽 Nanyang region of modern Henan province. ICTCL, p. 211: although most famous as an early mathematician and astronomer (see online information), he was also an eminent author of fu (he and his 東京賦 Rhapsody on the Eastern Capital are mentioned tangentially in connection with Kai Gu).

6. Poem: Four-Fold Sorrows (四愁詩 Si Chou Shi)
4782.647 四愁詩 says only "a poem by Zhang Heng". The structure is mentioned above.

7. Poems with seven character lines
An important question from a musical standpoint is whether the recitation of seven character lines naturally leads to a short pause at the end of each line, giving an 8 beat (reduced to 4) rhythm. I often hear seven character per line poems recited this way, so this informs my selection of rhythm for the present melody. Likewise, the tendency for poems to be in couplets informs my decision to treat short opening phrase of each section (verse) as a line, making them all eight line verses rather than ones of seven lines.

For another qin song with significance regarding couplets with seven characters in each half see the Intonation for Poetry (詩吟 Shi Yin).

8. Qin melody: Four-Fold Sorrows (四愁詩 Si Chou Shi)
Included only in Lixing Yuanya (1618; VIII/321), where there is a preface that is largely the same as the one included with publications of the original poem (i.e., adding no information about the music). The text is as follows,


The melody itself uses huangzhong tuning (raised fifth string, lowered first).

9. The four poems and their translations
Early copies were included in Wen Xuan, Folio 29 (Chinese edition, page 1303) and Yutai Xinyong.

As for published translations, there are at least one complete one and two partial ones.

  1. Four Sorrows, Four Poems, in Birrell, pp. 276-7.
    Begins, "The one I love lives on Mount Tai. I long to go after him, but Mount Liangfu is rugged."
  2. Four Melancholies, in Allen p. 28 (1st verse only).
    Begins, "Oh, the one I long to be with is on Tai Mountain; I too would like to go along the Liangfu slopes."
  3. Online: Four Chapters of Distressed Poems, a rhyming translation (1 1/2 verses)
    Begins, "In Taishan stays my dear sweetheart, but Liangfu keeps us long apart."

The title has also been translated Four Stanzas of Sorrow. (Return)

10. The four "美人 meiren"
The poem itself gives no specific gender references. With literati often posted to great distances one might initially guess that the four friends were more likely men than women (unless Zhang Heng himself had previously been posted in the four directions). The exchanged gifts may also suggest lovers.

11. 漢陽 Hanyang
There are a number of places in China called Hanyang, best known being the city now a part of Wuhan in Hubei. The mountain in Sichuan of this name might be considered, but the reference that makes most geographical sense is the area around 天水 Tianshui in what is today southeastern Gansu province. During the Eastern Han dynasty this area was a commandery called Hanyang. Nearby, in the spring of 138 CE, there was an earthquake here so great that a seismograph in Luoyang invented by Zhang Heng himself detected it.

12. Structure of the verses
Without the opening phrase of each verse ("the nth lament says"), the rhyme scheme of each verse suggests the seven lines should be grouped as three lines then four lines. However, the opening phrase at the beginning of each verse can easily be sung so it sounds like a line of similar importance to the other seven, thereby suggesting an even more regular structure to the melody, each verse having 8 lines of two phrases (couplets) each.

This poetic structure is then emphasized in the music by the fact that for the first three couplets of each verse the first half almost always ends on sol or re, then the second half ends on do; in the fourth couplet both halves usually end on do, but the general pattern of what in Western music would be called a leading note (re or sol) resolving to the tonic (do) is quite clear (though m.37 of my transcription has an uncertain note and m.41 has an exception). There is more discussion of such structures here).

13. Rhythm of initital reconstruction
Although the poetic structure, as shown in the previous footnote, is quite regular, the ornamentation on the tablature for the melody suggests that the music is somewhat less regular. Perhaps this could be seen as evidence that the song line and the qin line were not intended to go together strictly in lock-step, as is the common practice today.

Because rhythm is not directly indicated in qin tablature some people argue that there is no rhythm; others say that it should be rhythmic, or at least have a pulse. My own understanding of the rhythmic structure of early qin melodies is that they are fundamentally structured, but that the more they are played the freer the rhythms may be interpreted. The nature of Si Si Ge, being a lament, suggests it be played expressively, i.e., quite freely.

14. Original text
At this URL there was the following glossary

琴琅玕:用美玉裝飾的琴。 (! No mention of 金 as an alternate for 琴)

Regarding 我所思 wo suo si at the beginning of each poem, as mentioned above, this can be translated in several ways ("the one I love", "the one I long to be with", "my lover"). Note that the popular modern novel by Louis Cha (Jin Yong), Smiling Pround Wanderer (笑傲江湖 Xiaoao Jianghu; made into the film The Swordsman) refers to a qin melody called 有所思 You Suo Si. I have found no further reference to this title. Melody and Lyrics (timings follow my recording)
A largely syllabic setting dividing the original text into four sections;14 the words in brackets are not in the original poem.

15. 金琅玕 or 琴琅玕?
The standard version apparently has 金 jin (gold), while the music setting has 琴 qin (the music instrument).

Return to the annotated handbook list or to the Guqin ToC.