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Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Chinese Couplet Love Story

雙手推開窗前月. With both hands I pushed open the windows, revealing the moon.

一石擊破水中天. With one stone, I shot at the pond, cracking up Heaven!

This little gem came from a wedding night during the Sung Dynasty, about a thousand years ago. On that night, one famed scholar married the sister of the greatest poet of the time, Su Dong Po. As he approached the bridal chambers, a pair of jade hands slipped through the door with a piece of paper. The doors were then slammed shut and locked. On the note was the first part of the couplet. The poor groom was denied entry until the 2nd part of the couplet was completed by him. Like a zombie, he paced up and down the corridor; acting out with his hands in imitation of pushing a window open; muttering away the first half of the couplet repeatedly.

Su Dong Po had always known that his sister is an extremely talented woman who loves to throw literary obstacles to humble and cut every literati down to size. Even as big brother, he was no stranger in receiving the butt of her antics.

Though the bride loves the groom she thinks his talents are not worthy of her. Su Dong Po, could not help his brother-in-law (also his student) directly as this will lessen the groom's talents even more in the eyes of the sister. Finally he came up with an idea and tossed a pebble into the pond. The startled groom was able to get the hint and completed the couplet; thus gaining entry into the bridal chamber.

For those who are not well verse in the subtleties of the flowery language... On the surface, the couplet paints a beautiful description of metaphorical actions. The hidden meaning is deep and cryptic if one does not know the circumstances...

What the couplet really says is: "If you are really that TALENTED, you will be able to ENTER my chambers tonight and enjoy the DELIGHTS that lay within". So his answer was very apt. "With one HARD implement, I shall CRACK you open". Yep, people in those days were more elegant.

NOTE: Each character in the first part of the couplet matches or contrasts the corresponding character in the 2nd part, both in content and meaning they convey. Eg. two hands matches one stone. "push open" vs "cracking up", "moon in window" vs "heaven in pond". There are more rules and constraints to consider in composing good couplets. A great literary pasttime of old where scholars also held drinking bouts.

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