Li Sao
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57. Falling into Grief
- Qiliang mode; (tighten 2nd/5th strings: 2 4 5 6 1 2 3)
Li Sao 1
See 18 illustrations  
Li Sao, a famous poem attributed to Qu Yuan (340?-278 BCE),2 is also the title of what was one of the most popular qin pieces, found in 39 handbooks through 1946.3 With 18 sections (sometimes more), it is the longest Shen Qi Mi Pu piece to have been so commonly played. The variety of related forms in which it appears emphasizes its prevalence. None of the versions tries to set its words to music, but a number of them have lyrics with references to the poem, and the titles in the Shen Qi Mi Pu version refer in order to lines of the poem.

There are also a number of illustrated editions, perhaps the most complete being the Imperially Ordered Complete Illustrated Li Sao Augmenting Sketches by Xiao Yuncong,4 originally printed in the 17th and 18th centuries, later reprinted in the Siku Quanshu. I have a set of 18 illustrations in this style which match the 18 section titles of the Shen Qi Mi Pu melody.5

The poem, part of the ancient poetry anthology Chu Ci,6 describes a fanciful trip in the sky by a virtuous man slandered by opponents, failed by friends, and disappointed by his sovereign, whom he refers to as Ling Xiu, the Fair One7. His adventures include complaining to the mythical emperor Shun,8 unsuccessfully wooing the beautiful water spirit Fu Fei,9 hesitating to pursue "the beautiful daughter of Song",10 and consulting two famous shamans, Ling Fen and Wu Xian.11 On the last line he speaks of "joining Peng Xian", usually interpreted as following the example of an upright Shang minister who committed suicide.12 In real life Qu Yuan apparently drowned himself in the Miluo river, an event still commemorated by the Dragon Boat Festival.13

According to Xu Jian,14 the earliest surviving record of a qin melody of this theme is the melody Fei Long,15 Flying Dragon, mentioned in Xi Kang's Qin Fu as a qin melody. He bases this claim on a phrase in Li Sao in which Qu Yuan says he has a flying dragon pulling his chariot.16 Fei Long is also listed amongst Han dynasty imperial household pieces, 17 and the phrase occurs in a Han ritual song.18

Early Tang sources list titles such as Qu Yuan Tan (Sigh of Qu Yuan 19), then in late Tang the qin player Chen Kangshi created a Li Sao, Nine Sections,20 based on the original poem. However, the ancient transmission of Li Sao is not sufficiently documented to indicate whether either of the two versions to which Zhu Quan refers is melodically related to Chen's creation.

Later qin melody titles concerning Qu Yuan include Zepan Yin, Qu Yuan, Qu Yuan Wen Du, Diao Qu Yuan (only in 1547), Quzi Tian Wen, and Sao Shou Wen Tian.21

There are recordings of Shen Qi Mi Pu's Li Sao by Guan Pinghu and Wu Wenguang. Mei Yueqiang has recorded the Ziyuantang Qinpu version, and Liang Mingyue has recorded his own composition on this theme.

Original Preface22

The Emaciated Immortal says

there are two qin melodies called Li Sao, one of 18 sections written by Qu Yuan himself, and one of 11 sections written by later people in memory of (Qu Yuan).

The Li Sao Jing23 says,

Qu Yuan's original given name was Ping. He had the same family name as that of the Chu ruling family, and he served under King Huai of Chu as the Sanlu Dafu, whose duty was to manage the affairs of the Sanlu -- the three (Chu) royal clans, Zhao, Qu and Jing. Qu Yuan organized the records of its members, supervising the good and virtuous ones, so as to set a good example for all national officials. When he entered (the palace) he would examine and discuss policy with the king, and make decisions; when he went out he would inspect the lower rank officials, deal with the nobles, and carry out policies; the king valued Qu as if he were a close relative. Later he was slandered, and the king distanced himself from Qu Yuan, their intimacy declining daily. Qu, troubled and confused, didn't know who was accusing him, so he wrote Li Sao.

For the olden days he portrays the rule of the three emperors Tang (Yao), Yu (Shun) (and Xia Yu); for latter days he portrays the disorders of Jie (last ruler of the Xia), Zhou (last ruler of the Shang), (Lord) Yi and (Strongman) Jiao.24 Qu hoped his sovereign would realize the truth and return to the Correct Way and they could be together again.

At this time the state of Qin sent (their advisor) Zhang Yi on a treacherous mission to trap (King Huai) into having a meeting at Wu Guan. Qu Yuan advised the king not to go, but he didn't listen and set off. As a result he was coerced into submission and died while captive in Qin, (his son) King Xiang coming to power. Again slanderous words were used and Qu Yuan was transferred to Jiangnan.

Qu Yuan also wrote Jiu Ge, Tian Wen, Yuan You, Yu Fu25 and other such poems, hoping thus to make know his ideals in order to enlighten his sovereign; but in the end he was not understood. He could not bear seeing his own country fall into a dangerous collapse, so he expanded this onto the qin in order to make his pronouncements to heaven and earth.

Timings follow the recording on my CD; 聽錄音 listen with my transcription.
18 sections; numbers in brackets at the end of each section refer to corresponding lines of the poem -- see Hawkes' translation)

(00.00) 01. Preface   (>1505 says, "Longing for the Past" [冀古 Ji Gu])
(00.42) 02. Ling Jun (Qu Yuan) lays out his family origins (1-8)
(01.42) 03. He points to heaven as a witness (43)
(02.06) 04. (The king) makes a promise, then goes back on his word (45-46)
(02.21) 05. (Qu Yuan) sighs long and sheds tears (77)
(02.40) 06. The Fair One (i.e., the king) is neglectful (85)
(03.02) 07. (Qu Yuan) turns his chariot and stops (thinking of going back) (106-107)
(03.44) 08. Nü Xu (Qu Yuan's sister?) admonishes him (129-130)
(04.12) 09. (Qu) goes to Emperor Shun and makes a statement (144)
(04.36) 10. (On his dragon-driven chariot, Qu) rides the wind up to heaven (184)
(05.14) 11. He goes to (the good water spirit) Fu Fei and makes a pledge (221-222)
(05.48) 12. He is unable to decide (whether to visit the beautiful Jian Di) (241)
(06.40) 13. (The shaman) Ling Fen makes his (auspicious) prediction (277)
(07.00) 14. (The shaman) Wu Xian gives his opinion (279 & 285-300)
(07.22) 15. Fine jade ornaments are all hidden (by the common crowd) (301-302)
(07.53) 16. Orchids and irises cannot reveal their fragrance (307)
(08.24) 17. He roams off to get far away (340)
(09.09) 18. He looks down (in sadness) on his native place (366)
(10.07) --- play harmonics of the modal prelude
(10.21) --- Piece ends

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Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. References
43079.186 離騷 quotes accounts in Shi Ji and 王逸離騷經 Wang Yi's Li Sao Jing. Zhu Quan's original preface is quite detailed. The original text attributed to Qu Yuan is easily found online, e.g., in ctext.

2. #56 Marshbank Melody has further information on Qu Yuan, who was nicknamed 靈均 Ling Jun (see Section 2). (Return)

3. Tracing Li Sao (tracing chart)
See Zha Guide 9/90/139

4. Source of illustrations
Qinding Buhui Xiao Yuncong Li Sao Quantu 欽定補繪蕭雲從離騷全圖 , reprinted in Siku Quanshu. Details in a footnote under Scenes illustrating melodies from the Chu Ci.

5. Chu Ci illustrations
By Bai Yunli of Hangzhou. Details at Scenes illustrating melodies from the Chu Ci. (Return)

6. Translated by David Hawkes as The Songs of the South (Penguin Classics, 1985). Li Sao begins on page 67. (Return)

7. 靈修 or 靈脩 (both Ling Xiu literally, the Farsighted Spirit; see Hawkes, p.84 (Return)

8. See the title to Section 9; on line 144 the poem calls him 重華 Chonghua; it later makes reference both to 蒼梧 Cangwu (l.185) and 九嶷 Jiuyi Mountains (l.282), where Shun is said to have visited and been buried. (Return)

9. 虙妃 Fu Fei
73349.1 (radical 虍 hu, phonetic 必 bi so some say "Mi Fei"; also 宓妃 Fu Fei). She is said to have been 伏羲之女 a daughter of Fuxi (see Hawkes, p.90), but as the 落神 Luo River Deity she seems also to be have been associated with 甄洛 Zhen Luo, a wife or concubine of 曹丕 Cao Pi (187 - 226). Her Wikipedia entry has some further detail on this.

10. 娀之佚女 Song zhi yi nü (l.236), was 簡狄 Jian Di, ancestress of the Shang kings; also said to have become consort of 高辛 Gao Xin. See Hawkes, p.91 (Return)

11. 靈氛 Ling Fen and 巫咸 Wu Xian; see Hawkes p. 92 (Return)

12. See Hawkes p.84f. Some commentators have said that 彭咸 Peng Xian refers to two shamans, Wu Peng and Wu Xian, so that Qu Yuan (who perhaps was a shaman himself) was intending to join other shamans. (Return)

13. Dragon Boat Festival
More under Qu Yuan.

14. Qinshi Chubian, Chapter 5 (p.72). (Return)

15. 飛龍 Fei Long (Flying Dragon; also 飛龍篇 Fei Long Pian)
44974.274 does not mention the Qin Fu reference (translated in Van Gulik, Hsi K'ang and his Poetical Essay on the Lute, p.110). 274/3 mentions Li Sao (see next footnote), while .279 飛龍篇 Fei Long Pian references YFSJ (Folio 64, p. 926), a poem by Cao Zhi that also suggests riding a dragon as an immortal. See footnotes below regarding this term in qin melody titles. (Return)

16. 為余駕飛龍兮 Flying dragons pulled my chariot
See David Hawke's translation line 337 (Return)

17. Van Gulik, Hsi K'ang, p. 110, says "Fei-lung is mentioned in the Han-shu 漢書 as a tune of the fang-chung-yueh 房中樂, music played in the Imperial seraglio." See also the melody titles Fei Long Pian and Fei Long Yin. (Return)

18. David Knechtges, tr., Rhapsody on the Zither, in Wen Xuan, Vol. 3, p.296, says this "could refer to the Han ritual song in which the phrase 'flying dragon' occurs. See Han Shu 22.1048." Is this reference the same as Van Gulik's in the previous footnote? (Return)

19. 屈原嘆 Qu Yuan Tan (Sigh of Qu Yuan); included in You Lan manuscript Melody List. (Return)

20. 陳康士,離騷,九拍。 Mentioned in 新唐書,藝文志。See also the biography of Chen Kangshi (called 陳康 Chen Kang) in Qin Shi (琴史) #131 (Folio 4), and the information on Chen Kangshi and his contemporaries in Historical Notes on the Silk-String Zither. (Return)

21. 屈原問渡,吊屈原,屈子天問,搔首問天。 (Return)

22. Shen Qi Mi Pu preface
The original text of the preface and section titles are here.

23. Quote from 離騷經 Li Sao Jing
Text of the extract is once again here; the full quote is in 43079.186. Li Sao Jing is the title 王逸 Wang Yi gave the poem in his edition of Chu Ci, which is original surviving one, published in the 2nd c. CE. The first paragraph is a direct quote (except for "as if he were a close relative"). The following and penultimate paragraphs paraphrase Wang Yi's commentary. See also Hawkes, p.28ff. (Return)

24. (Strongman) Jiao 澆
Cf. Hawkes, p.88 concerning 羿 Yi (line 149) and 澆 Jiao (line 153). Yi, said to have been a descendent of the famous archer Hou Yi, usurped power from Xiang, a descendent (son?) of Qi, the founder of the Xia dynasty; Yi was in turn murdered by his wife in league with Han Zhuo. Jiao, a son of Han Zhuo, apparently took part, but was later killed in revenge by a son of the murdered ruler.

25. Other poems attributed to Qu Yuan
All were included in the Chu Ci. (Return)

26. Music
Timings follow my CD; the original Chinese section titles are here.

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Appendix: Chart Tracing 離騷 Li Sao
Further comment
above; based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide 9/90/139

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1.  神奇秘譜
      (1425; I/170 [here])
18T; QL; near end of S1, harmonic 8th node on 4th string = 1# (! >1505 same but see 1596);
Begins harmonics 十勾一,九跳三,十勾三,九勾六....(2 2 6 6, repeat 2 2 2 1 7 2 6 6 6....
  2.  浙音釋字琴譜
      (>1505; I/261)
18TL; QL; music same as 1425; titles same except #1; preface same but adds some comments;
1585 has almost the same lyrics
  3. 西麓堂琴統
      (1525; III/252)
20T (2 character titles); QL; related; afterword
Music related but quite different
  4. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/289)
18T; QL; titles same as 1425 but after first phrase music again different
Begins 2 2 6 6, repeat 2 2 2, 32 1 7 2 6 6 6. 2 2 6 6 2 2 2, 3 2 1 2 6 6 6....
    . 梧岡琴譜
      (1546; ToC)
Not included; see 1561
  5. 步虛僊琴譜
      (1556; Facs. #43)
20; QL; related
  6. 太音傳習
      (1552; IV/170)
18T; QL; titles and music same as 1539
  7. 太音補遺
      (1557; III/394)
18T; QL; titles and music same as 1552/1539
  8. 琴譜正傳
      (1561; II/497)
18T; called 離騷操 Li Sao Cao; titles as
  9. 五音琴譜
      (1579; IV/252)
18; ToC: QL; variation from 1539
Starts like 1439, adding 厂七之二 after 1st 4 notes; many more changes later
10. 重修真傳琴譜
      (1585; IV/506)
18; QL; titles and lyrics as >1505 but music very different
Preface same as 1425 with some added comment
11. 玉梧琴譜
      (1589; VI/93)
18; QL; related
Quotes 1425 preface
12. 文會堂琴譜
      (1596; VI/277)
18T; QL;
titles and music as 1425 (S1 harmonic changed to 7th node = A)
13. 藏春塢琴譜
      (1602; VI/446)
Identical to 1589
14. 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1609; VII/221)
22; QLD; Li Sao Cao;
Begins 2 2 6 6, 3216542 2 6 6 3 1 2 2 6 6, 5....  
15. 樂仙琴譜
      (1623; VIII/434)
Li Sao Cao (Li Sao in the ToC); 22; QLD;
Preface and music as 1609
16. 太音希聲
      (1625; IX/218)
18; QL; lyrics similar to 1492 but music very different; diff. titles
result: changes in lyrics and they don't follow same sectioning
17. 徽言秘旨
      (1647; X/232)
22; QL; at first like 1609
    . 徽言秘旨訂
      (1692; fac/)
Identical to 1647?
18. 琴苑新傳全編
      (1670; XI/418)
18T; QL; preface same as 1425; afterword;
Titles and music seem copied from 1539
19. 大還閣琴譜
      (1673; X/434)
20; 無射 wu yi (why?); many later handbooks then also used this mode name;
Music begins 2 2 6 6, 21 2 2 6 6 1 7_ 6 5 3 3,....
20. 澄鑒堂琴譜
      (1689; XIV/364)
16; 無射調 wuyi diao; related
21. 德音堂琴譜
      (1691; XII/588)
22; QL; related
22. 琴譜析微
      (1692; XIII/144)
16; W16; WY; related
23. 響山堂琴譜
      (<1700?; XIV/140)
16; WY; same as 1689
24. 蓼懷堂琴譜
      (1702; XIII/314)
20T; 夷則調 Yize Diao; same tuning and still related;
Uses many section titles from >1505 etc.
25. 誠一堂琴譜
      (1705; XIII/431)
20; same as 1673;
26. 臥雲樓琴譜
      (1722; XV/147)
16; 無射調 wuyi diao; related
27. 蘭田館琴譜
      (1755; XVI/281)
20; mode identified only as "raise 2nd and 5th; called "騷意 Sao Yi";
"tablature of Xu Qingshang" (see 1673)
28. 酣古齋琴譜
      (n.d.; XVIII/430)
"From 1647";
Most pages missing
29. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/513)
16; shangdiao yuyin but same tuning; compare 1673
30. 裛露軒琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/178)
16; "= 1689"
31. 琴學軔端
      (1828; XX/449)
22; QL;
Long afterword; XX/443: 離騷經 Li Sao Jing has complete text
32. 二香琴譜
      (1833; XXIII/180)
16; "羽音 yuyin"; afterword mentions 3 available versions: 1673 (i.e. Shen Taishao), 1702 and 文溥寰 Wen Bohuan (see Han Gui), who had a connection
33. 悟雪山房琴譜
      (1836; XXII/279)
20; 夾鐘均羽音 jiazhong yuyin; same tuning and related melody
34. 稚雲琴譜
      (1849; XXIII/390)
20; yize diao; same as 1702
35. 蕉庵琴譜
      (1868; XXVI/104)
16; shangdiao; same as 1802
36. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/541)
"From 1705";
37. 天籟閣琴譜
      (1876; XXI/251)
16; WYD; related
38. 琴學初津
      (1894; XXVIII/396)
16; 仲呂變調商音 non standard tuning shangyin; same as 1802;
Comments written in margin
39a. 琴學叢書
      (1910; XXX/304)
From 1705
39b. 琴學叢書
      (1910; XXX/319)
Made by combining several texts; paired with Qu Yuan's complete text;
Also in 琴府 Qin Fu; does not follow the common pairing method
40. 沙堰琴編
      (1946; XXIX/368)
20; 商調羽音 shangdiao yuyin: same as 1802

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