THE BALLAD OF MULAN
The sound of creaking.
Mulan sits in the doorway in front of her loom.
When the loom grows silent,
We can only hear the sound of her sighs.
Girl, who are you thinking about?
Girl… who do you long for?
“There is only one man I think about
There is only one man I long for
Last night I saw the conscription notice,
The Khan is issuing a great draft –
A dozen volumes of battle rolls,
Each one with my father’s name.
My father has no son old enough to take his place,
I, Mulan, have no elder brother.
I’m willing to buy a horse and saddle,
I will take my father’s place in battle.”
She buys a fine steed at the east market;
A saddle and blanket at the west market;
A bridle at the south market;
And a long whip at the north market.
At dawn, she leaves her parents’ home
and camps beside the Yellow River before dusk.
From far away, she cannot hear the sounds of her parents calling for her
Only the rushing waters of the Yellow River.
She leaves the Yellow River at dawn,
And reaches reach Black Mountain before dusk.
From far away, she cannot hear the sounds of her parents calling for her
Only the cries of the enemy cavalry in the Yàn hills.
She traveled ten thousand li,
She flew over mountains and through mountain passes
The sound of a war gong pierces the air,
The winter sun shines brightly on her coat of steel.
The general dead after a hundred battles,
The warriors return after ten years.
They return to see the Son of Heaven,
Sitting in the royal court
He unrolls the scroll of merit a dozen times
Giving hundreds and thousands of rewards
The Khan asks Mulan what she desires
I have no need to be promoted to a prominent position
I only ask for a camel that can travel a thousand li
That can take me back to my hometown
Her parents hear that their daughter has returned,
They welcome her at the entrance to the town.
When Elder Sister hears of Mulan’s return,
she stands in the doorway wearing a beautiful dress
When Little Brother hears that his sister has returned,
He sharpens his knife to slaughter a pig and a lamb.
“I open the door to my eastern chamber,
And sit on the bed of my western chamber.
I take off my military robes
And put on my old clothes.
I sit in front of the window as I comb my long flowing hair
And look into the mirror as I apply makeup
I go outside to see my comrades
They are all shocked and astounded.
“We traveled together for twelve years,” (they say),
“But we never suspected that Mulan was a woman!”
Most people tell the gender of a rabbit by its movement:
The male runs quickly, while the female often keeps her eyes shut.
But when the two rabbits run side by side,
Can you really discern whether I am a he or a she?
The Tongue-Cut Sparrow
Once upon a time there lived an old man and an old woman. The old man, who had a kind heart, kept a young sparrow, which he tenderly nurtured. But the dame was a cross-grained old thing; and one day, when the sparrow had pecked at some paste with which she was going to starch her linen, she flew into a great rage, and cut the sparrow's tongue and let it loose.
When the old man came home from the hills and found that the bird had flown, he asked what had become of it; so the old woman answered that she had cut its tongue and let it go, because it had stolen her starching-paste. Now the old man, hearing this cruel tale, was sorely grieved, and thought to himself: "Alas! Where can my bird be gone? Poor thing! Poor little tongue-cut sparrow! Where is your home now?" and he wandered far and wide, seeking for his pet, and crying: "Mr. Sparrow! Mr. Sparrow! Where are you living?"
One day, at the foot of a certain mountain, the old man fell in with the lost bird; and when they had congratulated one another on their mutual safety, the sparrow led the old man to his home, and, having introduced him to his wife and chicks, set before him all sorts of dainties, and entertained him hospitably.
"Please partake of our humble fare," said the sparrow. Poor as it is, you are very welcome."
"What a polite sparrow!" answered the old man, who remained for a long time as the sparrow's guest, and was daily feasted right royally. At last the old man said that he must take his leave and return home; and the bird, offering him two wicker baskets, begged him to carry them with him as a parting present. One of the baskets was heavy, and the other was light; so the old man, saying that as he was feeble and stricken in years he would only accept the light one, shouldered it, and trudged off home, leaving the sparrow family disconsolate at parting from him.
When the old man got home, the dame grew very angry, and began to scold him saying: "Well, and pray where have you been this many a day? A pretty thing, indeed, to be gadding about at your time of life!"
"Oh!" replied he, "I have been on a visit to the sparrows; and when I came away, they gave me this wicker basket as a parting gift." Then they opened the basket to see what was inside, and, lo and behold, it was full of gold and silver and precious things. When the old woman, who was as greedy as she was cross, saw all the riches displayed before her, she changed her scolding strain, and could not contain herself for joy.
"I'll go and call upon the sparrows, too," said she, "and get a pretty present." So she asked the old man the way to the sparrows' house, and set forth on her journey.
Following his direction, she at last met the tongue-cut sparrow, and exclaimed: "Well met! Well met, Mr. Sparrow! I have been looking forward to the pleasure of seeing you." So she tried to flatter and cajole the sparrow by soft speeches.
The bird could not but invite the dame to its home; but it took no pains to feast her, and said nothing about a parting gift. She, however, was not to be put off; so she asked for something to carry away with her in remembrance of her visit. The sparrow accordingly produced two baskets, as before, and the greedy old woman, choosing the heavier of the two, carried it off with her. But when she opened the basket to see what was inside, all sorts of hobgoblins and elves sprang out of it, and began to torment her.
But the old man adopted a son, and his family grew rich and prosperous. What a happy old man!
The Adventures of Little Peachling
Many hundred years ago there lived an honest old woodcutter and his wife. One fine morning the old man went off to the hills with his billhook, to gather a faggot of sticks, while his wife went down to the river to wash the dirty clothes. When she came to the river, she saw a peach floating down the stream; so she picked it up, and carried it home with her, thinking to give it to her husband to eat when he should come in.
The old man soon came down from the hills, and the good wife set the peach before him, when, just as she was inviting him to eat it, the fruit split in two, and a little puling baby was born into the world. So the old couple took the babe, and brought it up as their own; and, because it had been born in a peach, they called it Momotaro, or Little Peachling.
By degrees Little Peachling grew up to be strong and brave, and at last one day he said to his old foster parents: "I am going to the ogres' island to carry off the riches that they have stored up there. Pray, then, make me some millet dumplings for my journey."
So the old folks ground the millet, and made the dumplings for him; and Little Peachling, after taking an affectionate leave of them, cheerfully set out on his travels.
As he was journeying on, he fell in with a monkey, who gibbered at him, and said: "Kia! kia! kia! where are you off to, Little Peachling?"
"I'm going to the ogres' island, to carry off their treasure," answered Little Peachling.
"What are you carrying at your girdle?"
"I'm carrying the very best millet dumplings in all Japan."
"If you'll give me one, I will go with you," said the monkey.
So Little Peachling gave one of his dumplings to the monkey, who received it and followed him. When he had gone a little further, he heard a pheasant calling: "Ken! ken! ken! where are you off to, Master Peachling?"
Little Peachling answered as before; and the pheasant, having begged and obtained a millet dumpling, entered his service, and followed him.
A little while after this, they met a dog, who cried: "Bow! wow! wow! whither away, Master Peachling?"
"I'm going off to the ogres' island, to carry off their treasure."
"If you will give me one of those nice millet dumplings of yours, I will go with you," said the dog.
"With all my heart," said Little Peachling. So he went on his way, with the monkey, the pheasant, and the dog following after him.
When they got to the ogres' island, the pheasant flew over the castle gate, and the monkey clambered over the castle wall, while Little Peachling, leading the dog, forced in the gate, and got into the castle. Then they did battle with the ogres, and put them to flight, and took their king prisoner. So all the ogres did homage to Little Peachling, and brought out the treasures which they had laid up. There were caps and coats that made their wearers invisible, jewels which governed the ebb and flow of the tide, coral, musk, emeralds, amber, and tortoise shell, besides gold and silver. All these were laid before Little Peachling by the conquered ogres.
So Little Peachling went home laden with riches, and maintained his foster parents in peace and plenty for the remainder of their lives.
Visu the Woodsman and the Old Priest
Many years ago there lived on the then barren plain of Suruga a woodsman by the name of Visu. He was a giant in stature, and lived in a hut with his wife and children.
One day Visu received a visit from an old priest, who said to him: "Honorable woodsman, I am afraid you never pray."
Visu replied: "If you had a wife and a large family to keep, you would never have time to pray."
This remark made the priest angry, and the old man gave the woodcutter a vivid description of the horror of being reborn as a toad, or a mouse, or an insect for millions of years. Such lurid details were not to Visu's liking, and he accordingly promised the priest that in future he would pray.
"Work and pray," said the priest as he took his departure.
Unfortunately Visu did nothing but pray. He prayed all day long and refused to do any work, so that his rice crops withered and his wife and family starved. Visu's wife, who had hitherto never said a harsh or bitter word to her husband, now became extremely angry, and, pointing to the poor thin bodies of her children, she exclaimed: "Rise, Visu, take up your ax and do something more helpful to us all than the mere mumbling of prayers!"
Visu was so utterly amazed at what his wife had said that it was some time before he could think of a fitting reply. When he did so his words came hot and strong to the ears of his poor, much-wronged wife.
"Woman," said he, "the Gods come first. You are an impertinent creature to speak to me so, and I will have nothing more to do with you!" Visu snatched up his ax and, without looking round to say farewell, he left the hut, strode out of the wood, and climbed up Fujiyama, where a mist hid him from sight.
When Visu had seated himself upon the mountain he heard a soft rustling sound, and immediately afterward saw a fox dart into a thicket. Now Visu deemed it extremely lucky to see a fox, and, forgetting his prayers, he sprang up, and ran hither and thither in the hope of again finding this sharp-nosed little creature.
He was about to give up the chase when, coming to an open space in a wood, he saw two ladies sitting down by a brook playing go. The woodsman was so completely fascinated that he could do nothing but sit down and watch them. There was no sound except the soft click of pieces on the board and the song of the running brook. The ladies took no notice of Visu, for they seemed to be playing a strange game that had no end, a game that entirely absorbed their attention. Visu could not keep his eyes off these fair women. He watched their long black hair and the little quick hands that shot out now and again from their big silk sleeves in order to move the pieces.
After he had been sitting there for three hundred years, though to him it was but a summer's afternoon, he saw that one of the players had made a false move. "Wrong, most lovely lady!" he exclaimed excitedly. In a moment these women turned into foxes and ran away.
When Visu attempted to pursue them he found to his horror that his limbs were terribly stiff, that his hair was very long, and that his beard touched the ground. He discovered, moreover, that the handle of his ax, though made of the hardest wood, had crumbled away into a little heap of dust.
After many painful efforts Visu was able to stand on his feet and proceed very slowly toward his little home. When he reached the spot he was surprised to see no hut, and, perceiving a very old woman, he said: "Good lady, I am amazed to find that my little home has disappeared. I went away this afternoon, and now in the evening it has vanished!"
The old woman, who believed that a madman was addressing her, inquired his name. When she was told, she exclaimed: "Bah! You must indeed be mad! Visu lived three hundred years ago! He went away one day, and he never came back again."
"Three hundred years!" murmured Visu. "It cannot be possible. Where are my dear wife and children?"
"Buried!" hissed the old woman, "and, if what you say is true, you children's children too. The Gods have prolonged your miserable life in punishment for having neglected your wife and little children."
Big tears ran down Visu's withered cheeks as he said in a husky voice: "I have lost my manhood. I have prayed when my dear ones starved and needed the labor of my once strong hands. Old woman, remember my last words: "If you pray, work too!"
We do not know how long the poor but repentant Visu lived after he returned from his strange adventures. His white spirit is still said to haunt Fujiyama when the moon shines brightly.