Meishao Yue
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48. Moon Atop a Plum Tree
- shang mode:2 standard tuning, 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
梅梢月 1
Meishao Yue
Lin Bu in the Moonlight 3  
This melody has no connection to the most famous one on the theme of plums, Three Repetitions of the Tune Plum Blossom (Meihua Sannong). As a melody title Meishao Yue can be found in a Song dynasty Melody List, and has been attributed to Guo Chuwang (see comment). However, there is no way to know whether that melody had any connection to the present one.

Tablature for the present melody survives in only one handbook, Xilutang Qintong (1525),4 which connects the melody to a poem by the early Song dynasty painter, calligrapher and poet Lin Bu (967-1028).5 Lin Bu was particularly famous as a recluse who claimed that he considered plum trees his wife and pet cranes his children, and so never married. A lifelong resident of Hangzhou, he spent 20 years on Solitary Mountain, an island in Hangzhou's West Lake; a gravesite and neighboring Releasing Cranes Pavilion are said to mark the spot.6

The introduction to Mei Shao Yue in Xilutang Qintong compares the beauty of the melody to the beauty of a line in Lin Bu's poem How Plum Flowers Embarrass a Garden.7 Sections 2 and 8 (of 10) have titles quoting the poem. There are several published translations of the poem; the one by Red Pine is as follows,8

How Plum Flowers Embarrass a Garden

When everything has faded they alone shine forth
encroaching on the charms of smaller gardens
their scattered shadows fall lightly on clear water
their subtle scent pervades the moonlit dusk
snowbirds look again before they land
butterflies would faint if they but knew
thankfully I can flirt in whispered verse
I don't need a sounding board or winecup

This poem also serves as lyrics for a melody called Plum Blossoms (Mei Hua), surviving in several Japanese handbooks though quite likely brought there from China.9 Chinese have long prized plum trees and their blossoms. They symbolize winter because blossoms can appear even while there is still snow on the ground; and purity because of these white blossoms.


Original Afterword 10

The Fleeing Immortal (Lin Bu) built a cottage on Solitary Mountain (in Hangzhou's West Lake). At night he intoned as he leaned out his small window and saw the moon struggling to get free of the clouds. As a result we have this melody. It has beautiful sounds, like the phrases "scattered shadows" and "subtle scent" (from Lin Bu's poem).

10 Sections, two titled;
11 see transcription; timings follow my recording 聽錄音
(Also listen here to the setting of Lin Bu's poem Mei Hua as published in Japan ca. 1676; it makes a good prelude to this longer piece.)

00.00   1.
00.51   2. Scattered shadows, subtle scent
01.23   3.
02.04   4.
02.51   5.
03.30   6.
03.54   7.
04.31   8. Falling lightly on clear water
05.22   9.
05.55 10.
06.35     closing harmonics
06.48     end (playing time: just under 7 minutes)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Meishao Yue References (QQJC III/122); 4/1048 梅梢 "above the plum tree" quotes three poems, of which the first two mention the moon:

A. 范成大 Fan Chengda (1126-1191), 《坐嘯齋書懷》詩 Shi poem Sit Whistle Study Room Feelings
    Moon intruding on lamp shadows, deputies about to go; springtime plum tree tops, officials don't yet know.

B. 韓淲 Han Biao (1159-1224).《朝中措.梅月圓》詞 Ci poem Morning (Palace?) Plan, Plum Moon Round
    Fragrance moves the plum tree tops under a round moon; every year it first comes with the east wind.

2. Shang mode (商調 shang diao)
For more on the shang mode see Shenpin Shang Yi. See also Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature

3. The Poet Lin Bu Wandering in the Moonlight
This painting, by 杜堇 Du Jin (Ming dynasty; Wiki), is #1954.582 in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Other paintings on this theme, and thus of particular relevance to this melody include:

  1. Honolulu Academy of Arts, 馬遠 Ma Yuan (active 1190-1230), A Gentleman in his Garden.
    Comments on the painting suggest that "perhaps it is Lin Bu looking at the plum trees".
  2. Shanghai Museum, 杜堇 Du Jin, 梅下橫琴圖 Playing the Qin Underneath a Plum Tree (I don't know how accurate the color is in this reproduction).

See also the Berkeley Museum of Art, Ma Yuan, Plum Tree and Ducks by a Stream

Plum trees and plum blossoms are a common theme or motif in traditional Chinese painting. One of the most famous qin melodies is called Three repetitions of "Plum Blossom".

4. Zha Guide 19/184/--

5. Lin Bu (967-1028)
14856.234 林逋 "From Qiantang (Hangzhou), literary name 君復 Junfu (no mention of a hao or of 逋仙 Bu Xian, lit., 'fleeing immortal', using the 'bu' of 'Lin Bu', meaning 'flee'). In tranquility loving ancient things, he did not seek fame or fortune, instead becoming a recluse on West Lake's Solitary Mountain (孤山 Gu Shan). For 20 years he remained there without needing to go into the city. He was skilled at calligraphy and painting, and expert with his poetry." Translations of Lin Bu's poems are included in several anthologies.

6. Gravesite of Lin Bu on Solitary Mountain (孤山 Gushan) in West Lake Playing Meishao Yue at Lin Bu's gravesite  
See also a view from the gravesite. Gushan Island in Hangzhou's West Lake has, on the side facing the main lake, the original premises of the Zhejiang Museum. On the hill behind the museum are a number of artists' studios, and on the opposite side of the hill is a gravestone marked as that of Lin Bu (967-1028), known for his love of plum trees and cranes. A nickname for the island is said to have been Plum Island (梅嶼 Mei Yu) for its many plum trees, particularly around the grave of Lin Bu; and next to the grave is a Releasing Cranes Pavilion (放鶴亭 Fang He Ting). The gravesite is quite peaceful when visitors are not playing karaoke in the pavilion.

7. How Plum Flowers Embarrass a Garden (山園小梅 Shan Yuan Xiao Mei), by 林逋 Lin Bu
This poem (the title is sometimes also translated as Small Plum Tree in my Mountain Garden) was included in what was perhaps the most famous early anthology of poetry since the Book of Songs and the Songs of Chu, the 千家詩 Poems of 1,000 Masters, a collection of 224 poems by about 100 masters of the Tang and Song dynasties.

8. How Plum Flowers Embarrass a Garden, a translation by Red Pine
The translation above was included with permission. See Red Pine (trans.), Poems of the Masters; Port Townsend, Copper Canyon Press, 2003, p.453. The original text of the poem (p.452) is as follows ,


For the poem lined up with its pronunciation as well as translation see here.

9. 梅花 Mei Hua: a qin song published in Japan with 山園小梅 Shan Yuan Xiao Mei used as lyrics
See further details, including a recording and transcription.

10. 梅梢月,西麓堂琴統解題 Afterword to Meishao Yue
The original Chinese text for the preface is as follows.

11. Section timings follow my recording. (Return)

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