Ouyang Xiu: Ode to the Sound of Autumn ~ 《秋声赋》 欧阳修 with English Translations

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《秋声赋》 欧阳修


Ode to the Sound of Autumn
Ouyang Xiu

While reading at night, I, Ouyang Zi, am terrified upon hearing a sound coming from the southwest. “How strange it is!” I cry. At first it is like the pattering of the raining and the whistling of the wind, but it quickly becomes violent like the roaring of the surging waves at night and the sudden onslaught of a storm. When it hits something, it becomes a metallic crunch like the clashing of weapons. It is also like the sound of the silent march of an army hurrying to the battlefield, should the mouth of each soldier be gagged and there be no shouting from commands. “What sound is this?”I inquire of the boy servant, “Go and find out.” He comes back and says, “The moon and the stars are shining bright and the Milky Way is high up. There is no sound but that of the forest.” “How sad it is!”I sigh. “It is the sound of autumn. Is autumn already here? The form of autumn is like this. Its color is pale and gloomy, as the smoke has diffused and the clouds have dispersed. Its countenance is clear and bright, as the sky is high and the air is fresh with the sun shining. Its breath is piercingly cold, as it pricks people’s skin and bones. Its mood is desolate and bleak, as the mountains and rivers are cheerless and silent. Thus the keynote of the sound of autumn is sad and plaintive, and at times wailing and yelling. Before autumn comes, the verdant grass and the leafy trees vie to surpass each other, and the luxuriant vegetation is delightful to the eyes. When the autumn wind blows, the grass changes its color and the leaves of the trees fall. It is the lingering mighty power of autumn that devastates the lush greenery and brings about its desolation. “Autumn is the executioner. It is the yin. It is a symbol of war and corresponds with the element Jin. It is the belligerent power of the heaven and earth, aiming to destroy and kill. The law of nature is growth in spring and harvest in autumn. Autumn can also be explained by music. In tone it corresponds with Shang which means “west”. In tune it corresponds with yi, which means the month of July. Shang means sadness, as all thins feel sad when they grow old. Yi means killing, as things should be killed when they are overly abundant. “Alas! Grass and trees have no feelings and they will wither in time. Man is an animal and is the paragon of all creatures. But a myriad of worries sadden his heart, and a myriad of chores exhaust his body. What affects his heart will inevitably consume his energy. And he is often troubled by the thought that he lacks the energy to achieve things he wants to accomplish, and lacks the wisdom to comprehend things he wants to understand. Thus his ruddy complexion is withered, like the dried up bark and his black hair turns white, like starry sky. Since man is not made of metal or stone, how can he compete with grass and trees? Since he is the victim of his own worries, why should he blame the sound of autumn?” The boy has fallen into a doze, and is silent. Only the insects are chirping at the foot of the wall, as if they were sighing with me.

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