# 38. A Poem is Complete “If Yang Ziqian had not gone to Qingzhou, then this matter could be given to him,” Zhang Shen said, “out of all of us, he’s the best in this area.” The mountain wind blew into the room, making Chen Tai’s long goatee float. He laughed, “Jinyan, you are more suited to me than a life of officialdom.” “Old man, are you suggesting that I’m shirking responsibility?” Zhang Shen was not angry, and replied with a rather unbefitting sarcastic tone, “This old man will wash his years and listen intently to your most enlightened suggestions.” Seeing that they were about to argue again, Zhang Shen’s student walked in with hurried steps, head down, and bowed, “Sir, your student Cijiu has come.” *Xu Cijiu? What’s he doing here, has he already finished copying the sage’s works 300 times?* Zhang Shen nodded, “Let him in.” Seeing the student leave, he turned to look at Chen Tai opposite the board, laughing, “Speaking of that, this old man recently has taken in a new student, being this Xu Cijiu’s older cousin. His poetic talent is extraordinary.” Li Mubai added, “He’s also my student.” Chen Tai looked at old Zhang, and then looked at old Li, as he thought of something, “The one who wrote *Throughout the world, there will be friends dear and true; for on the road, is there anyone who knows not you?*” Li Mubai and Zhang Shen both laughed with pride. “Hahaha…” Chen Tai also started laughing, pointing towards his two friends. “What are you laughing at?” “I’m laughing at the fact that fame has clouded your vision, oh, and jealousy.” Chen Tai’s laughter faded, half warning, half mocking, “Yang Ziqian’s name is certain to be left in the history books alongside this poem, indeed something to be admired. But have you two not thought, that such pristine phrases are no easy task. Many scholars could spend a whole life, and only make a handful of good poems. And as for the ones that can stay in the history books, even fewer. “To come up with a *Throughout the world, there will be friends dear and true; for on the road, is there anyone who knows not you* is already a divine stroke of inspiration, and those who hear it will be moved, and wish for another one of similar prestige, no, two, perfect to make both your names remain throughout the ages? “To place too much weight on fame, as time passes, how will the vast righteous qi inside you stay?” A whole stream of words later, both Zhang Shen and Li Mubai felt awkward. In their hearts they knew that Chen Tai had a point; those poems that can be passed down through generations were no easy feat to come by. Plus, the author wasn’t even an intellectual. To even be able to make one great work, is already a stroke of fortune as large as heaven itself. To hope for a petty official to come up with such poems again and again, and for them to be praised in the annals of history, would indeed be somewhat in vain. “Youping’s words have merit.” The two bowed, saying solemnly, “Scholars have three eternal principles. Even if we want our names to be praised in the history books, then that must be achieved through the righteous path, and not via shortcuts. We two have made an error.” “To know an error and correct it, there is no higher good.” Chen Tai nodded. Moments later, the student led Xu Qi’an and Xu Xinnian into the refined chamber. The two of them simultaneously cupped their hands and bowed, “This student greets our teachers.” Li Mubai and Zhang Shen exchanged looks, being extra appreciative of Xu Qi’an’s appearance. “Please, sit!” Zhang Shen said, “Ningyan, have you come to the academy to ask your teacher to appraise a new work?” Li Mubai asked, testing. Xu Qi’an shook his head, “This student has come with a request.” “Please say.” Xu Qi’an told the two teachers about his reason for coming, hiding the fact that he planned to take revenge on the Zhou family, merely saying that the one behind the tax silver case was highly likely to be Deputy Minister Zhou, and if he could live through the official examination, the Xu family would definitely face retribution. “This…” Li Mubai looked at Zhang Shen, who showed the same uncomfortable expression, and said helplessly “The academy does not permit outsiders to stay, these are the rules.” And intellectuals placed most importance on rules. Xu Qi’an was just about to plead, when he heard Xu Xinnian say, “Does the eldest princess also not commonly stay at the Academy?” Zhang Shen shook his head, “You know her highness’s status.” Xu Xinnian nodded, “The Academy forbids outsiders from staying, apart from the royal family.” *Heh, this dumb bastard is as bad with speaking as ever!* The three great scholars all started laughing in anger. Xu Qi’an almost laughed, too; Erlang’s venomous tongue was as sharp as ever. Li Mubai shook his head, “Brother Jinyan, your student, I have to admit I’m exited to see when he enters the Mandate Seeker rank.” *That would be too frightening…* Zhang Shen’s mouth twitched. Only the still laughing Chen Tai, this time looking at Xu Qi’an, managed to get a word in, asking “You are Xu Ningyan?” “This student is.” Xu Qi’an, wearing a Confucianist’s robe and pretending that he was indeed an intellectual, replied earnestly, bowing. “I heard that you have some poetic talent. How about this, if you can produce a poem here that makes all three of us satisfied, then this old man will take the lead and allow the Xu Family’s women to seek refuge in the Academy, and take care of them.” Allowing the Xu family’s women to live in the Academy was not the most important point, the important point was in his last phrase: “Take care of them.” This was what the two Xu brothers came here for. Xu Xinnian’s face showed a slight delight, as he turned to look at his cousin, “Big brother…” He was both delighted and anxious. Writing a poem was not difficult, every scholar could produce a perfectly standard poem, but the hard part was making the three great scholars satisfied. How hard is this? It’s far too hard. *Write a poem? You want to force me to get freebies off you?* Xu Qi’an did not immediately respond, rather asking hesitantly, “To make a poem from nothing, or with a set topic?” The three scholars exchanged looks, and Zhang Shen said “Encouraging Learning!” *Of course they wouldn’t let me go off the top of my head. Otherwise, I could pull a legendary work out of my arse in no time flat…* Xu Qi’an sighed silently. At the same time, he let out a breath, because this topic was not beyond him. His meagre literature knowledge was enough to carry him through. The first thing “Encouraging Learning” made Xu Qi’an think of was an essay he had read in high school of the same name, but since this was a poem, that would not do. *A book does hold a house of gold; a book does hide a charming bride!* In Xu Qi’an’s mind, the poem that accompanied this well-known proverb materialised. In the region of encouraging learning, in terms of fame, not many could be on the same level as that one. He was about to choose this poem to leech off the great scholars, but suddenly thought of the situation the Cloud Deer Academy had been in for the past two centuries. *If I remember correctly, this poem was written by an Emperor of the Song dynasty? There’s themes of fame and recognition within it, but the future of the Academy’s students in the official field is extremely difficult.* *When Cijiu got his Juren title, he had exclaimed that he did not know in the future, which remote corner of the empire would he be sent to.* *If I copy this poem, wouldn’t that be poking at the Yunlu Academy’s sensitive points, it might then have the opposite effect…* Seeing him silent for a long time, Xu Xinnian’s frown became tighter. Of the three great scholars, Zhang Shen and Li Mubai was still expectant looking, and Chen Tai merely smiled, drinking his tea. Xu Qi’an gathered up his thoughts, and said “This student apologies for his lack of talent. Cijiu, would you mind grinding ink for me.” Xu Xinnian found a brush, paper, and ink stone, and spread them out on the table, grinding out ink for his big brother. One hand holding the brush, one hand holding back his sleeve, he swished the brush tip in the ink, and signalled for his brother to take the pen. *My calligraphy skills are so bad, it’s less embarrassing if I not… no, I don’t even know calligraphy in the first place.* Xu Qi’an grumbled internally, and making a pose of a scholar teaching streams how to flow, said “Cijiu will write for me.” Xu Xinnian nodded, and sat in front of the table. *“To third watch with lamp light, from fifth when roosters crow;
are the times a boy should study in the day;
If with dark hair still he does not study now;
Regret it, will he, when his hairs turn grey!”*[^1] Xu Xinnian finished writing, and put down the brush, looking at the glyphs on the paper with great intensity, his eyes flashing with light, his face showing excitement. Briefly in the room there was silence. Xu Xinnian thought over this poem’s rhythm, as the three great scholars quickly walked to the tableside, silently looking at the paper. Silently looking at the paper. --- [^1]: Extract from the Tang-dynasty text *An Exhortation to Learning*《劝学》: 天更灯火五更鸡,正是男儿读书时。黑发不知勤学早,白首方悔读书迟。