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83. A Dragon Returns in Evening to its Cave
- zhi mode: 2 standard tuning 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 played as 4 5 7b 1 2 4 5 (compare also 1 2 4 5 6 1 2)
龍歸晚洞 1
Long Gui Wan Dong
This title can be found in the
zhi mode section (see #40) of at least one old melody title list, but actual music tablature survives from only two handbooks, the present one dated 1525, and another dated 1559. The 1559 version is identical to 1525 in many large sections, but it completely skips the music for 1525 sections 2 and 3, has a few smaller gaps elsewhere, and has a different ending, with no indication of a harmonic coda.4 Both versions have commentary,5 but neither connects the melody with a specific figure or story.

Dragons are said to have responsibility for bringing rain at appropriate times; there is reference to this is both commentaries, as well as in one of the 1525 section titles. The 1525 afterword includes an exhortation that officials should follow the proper Way. The 1559 preface begins with a discussion of the first hexagram in the Yi Jing.

A dragon returning also suggests sages or immortals going into reclusion; and there may be an allusion here to an old aphorism that says that the accomplishments of an outstanding person remain long after they themselves are gone. However, the section titles make no mention of this.

Original Afterword
The afterword is as follows (translation incomplete):

Noble people going out to take office: they are like dragons hidden from sight, always going forward with the times. When the government officials are in accord with the Way, (the dragon) takes responsibility for using talents to bring rain and appropriate times, and so taking this as a personal responsibility.
(? translation tentative)

Music (not yet reconstructed)
9 sections, titled (not yet translated)

1. 深濳淵默   The silence of the deep
2. 天衢夭矯   Milky Way winding
3. 噓吸雲氣   Sigh at the vaporous clouds
4. 空洞奮躍   Empty cave frolicking
5. 海風鼓舞   Sea breezes dance for joy
6. 頷歛珠光   Chin firm and pupils (pearls) shining
7. 游焉以息   Swimming with the vapor
8. 靈駕如電   The spirit rides like lightning ((漸慢 becoming slow)
9. 作霖待時   Causing rain when the time comes


Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a
separate page)

1. References for A Dragon Returns to its Cave (龍歸晚洞 Long Gui Wan Dong)
ZWDCD has only 49812.687 龍歸long gui, saying it refers to an immortal going into reclusion. (晚洞 14282.xxx.)

48661.18 麝過 she guo (musk deer passes by) has what might be a relevant couplet. The source given is 許渾,題崔處士山居詩 a poem by Xu Hun (d. 858) called Cui the Recluse Living in the Mountains. The full poem is:


The third line of this poem later found its way (with two characters changed) into the Enlarged Collection of Worthy Aphorisms (增廣賢文 Zengguang Xianwen; 5570.92ff and its referenced 5570.9 增生 make no mention of this title or the present couplet). This collection of aphorisms apparently originated in the Ming dynasty or earlier as a way for teachers to transmit Confucian social values to young students. The collection gradually grew to include hundreds of instructional couplets from various sources. Chinese copies are easily found online (example). 320 of them are translated in an Asiapac illustrated book called Wisdom from Chinese Proverbs (an earlier edition was Wisdom in Chinese Proverbs). The 274th of these takes the third line from the above poem, changing 曉 to 晚 and 自 to 木 . This makes, with the Asiapac translation:

龍歸晚洞雲猶濕,麝過春山草木香。 Long gui wan dong yun you shi, she guo chun shan cao mu xiang.
When the dragon returns to its cave in the evening, the clouds nearby become wet;
    Where the musk deer passes in the mountain, the grass too smells sweet.

My own translation of this is slightly different:

A dragon returns in evening to its cave but clouds remain wet;
    a musk deer spends spring in the mountains but the vegetation remains fragrant.

This is in line with the following understanding of the significance of this couplet:

The presence of the truly great is still felt long after they are gone.

This latter is from what seems to be another complete translation of the book, put online in 2005 by JordanM. I found it in February 2012 while working on reconstructing this melody. Unfortunately I could not figure out how to contact her for further information, but it should be noted that dragons have long been associated with rain, and the musk deer is said to have a fragrant odor. The poem seems to suggest that even when the dragon is not present it can still bring rain, and even when the musk deer is not present its fragrance remains on the vegetation.

2. Zhi mode (徵調 zhi diao) (here played as 4 5 7b 1 2 4 5 )
For more information on mode see Shenpin Zhi Yi. For considering the tuning as 4 5 7b 1 2 4 5 see further comment. Considered this way, all the sections, as well as the closing coda, end on 1, but within the melody itself tonal centers seem to shift from being 1 and 5 to being 6 and 3. Determining this was complicated by the lack of punctuation in long stretches of tablature. My interpretation is based on my feeling that punctuation was simply omitted rather than that the phrases are really omitted. This is something that in theory might happen if, for example, some old tablature being copied had no punctuation and the editor, with only a partial understanding of the melody, only put in punctuation where he was sure it was justified.

4. Tracing Long Gui Wan Dong
Zha's guide 20/188/-- lists this melody in only two handbooks:

  1. Here in Xilutang Qintong (1525; QQJC III/168-9)
  2. In Taiyin Xupu (1559; QQJC III/446-7).

Both versions have nine sections, but Section 1 of the 1559 version combines the first two sections of 1525. It then skips the tablature of 1525 Sections 2 and 3, making the 1559 Section 3 equivalent to 1525 Section 4. Later in the piece 1559 Sections 7 and 8 are equivalent to the tablature in 1525 Section 8. Section 9 of both begin the same but their endings are different. 1525 has a harmonic coda; 1550 does not.

5. Commentary in the 龍歸晚洞 Long Gui Wan Dong in Taiyin Xupu (1559)
The preface there is as follows (compare 1525):

The dragon is a yang being. The beginning (bottom) line of (first hexagram in) the Yi Jing is, "(Dragon) lying low"; the second line is, "(Dragon) appearing"; the fifth line is, "(Dragon) flying"; the top line is, "(Dragon) haughty"....
(Translation incomplete.)
The beginning of this preface refers to commentary on the first hexagram of the Yi Jing, named 乾 qian, which begins:「乾。元。亨。利。貞。初九,潛龍物用。」

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