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The moon shone like glorified and floating dew on the bosom
of the tranquil Pei-ho, and the heart of the young poet Le-pih
was like a cup running over with wine. It was no abatement of
his exulting fulness that he was as yet the sole possessor of the
secret of his own genius. Conscious of exquisite susceptibility to
beauty, fragrance and music (the three graces of the Chinese),
he was more intent upon enjoying his gifts than upon the awakening
of envy for their possession—the latter being the second
leaf in the book of genius, and only turned over by the finger of
satiety. Thoughtless of the acquisition of fame as the youthful
poet may be, however, he is always ready to anticipate its fruits,
and Le-pih committed but the poet's error, when, having the gem in
his bosom which could buy the favor of the world, he took the
favor for granted without producing the gem.

Kwonfootse had returned a conqueror, from the wars with the
Hwong-kin, and this night, on which the moon shone so gloriously,
was the hour of his triumph, for the Emperor Tang had condescended
to honor with his presence, a gala given by the victorious
general at his gardens on the Pei-ho. Softened by his exulting
feelings (for though a brave soldier, he was as haughty as


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Luykong the thunder-god, or Hwuyloo the monarch of fire), the
warlike mandarin threw open his gardens on this joyful night, not
only to those who wore in their caps the gold ball significant of
patrician birth, but to all whose dress and mien warranted their
appearance in the presence of the emperor.

Like the realms of the blest shone the gardens of Kwonfootse.
Occupying the whole valley of the Pei-ho, at a spot where it
curved like the twisted cavity of a shell, the sky seemed to shut
in the grounds like the cover of a vase, and the stars seemed but
the garden-lights overhead. From one edge of the vase to the
other—from hill-top to hill-top—extended a broad avenue, a pagoda
at either extremity glittering with gold and scarlet, the sides
flaming with colored lamps and flaunting with gay streamers of
barbarian stuffs, and the moonlit river cutting it in the centre, the
whole vista, at the first glance, resembling a girdle of precious
stones with a fastening of opal. Off from this central division
radiated in all directions alleys of camphor and cinnamon trees,
lighted with amorous dimness, and leading away to bowers upon
the hill-side, and from every quarter resounded music, and in
every nook was seen feasting and merriment.

In disguise, the emperor and imperial family mingled in the
crowd, and no one save the host and his daughters knew what
part of the gardens was honored with their presence. There was,
however, a retreat in the grounds, sacred to the privileged few,
and here, when fatigued or desirous of refreshment, the royal
personages laid aside disguise and were surrounded with the deferential
honors of the court. It was so contrived that the access
was unobserved by the people, and there was, therefore, no feeling
of exclusion to qualify the hilarity of the entertainment,
Kwonfootse, with all his pride, looking carefully to his popularity.


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At the foot of each descent, upon the matted banks of the river,
floated gilded boats with lamps burning in their prows, and gayly-dressed
boatmen offering conveyance across to all who required
it; but there were also, unobserved by the crowd, boats unlighted
and undecorated, holding off from the shore, which, at a sign given
by the initiated, silently approached a marble stair without the
line of the blazing avenue, and taking their freight on board,
swiftly pulled up the moonlit river, to a landing concealed by the
shoulder of the hill. No path led from the gardens hither, and
from no point of view could be overlooked the more brilliant
scene of imperial revel.

It was verging toward midnight when the unknown poet, with
brain floating in a celestial giddiness of delight, stood on the
brink of the gleaming river. The boats plied to and fro with
their freights of fair damsels and gayly-dressed youths, the many-colored
lamps throwing a rainbow profusion of tints on the water,
and many a voice addressed him with merry invitation, for Lepih's
beauty, so famous now in history, was of no forbidding stateliness,
and his motions, like his countenance, were as frankly joyous
as the gambols of a young leopard. Not inclined to boisterous
gayety at the moment, Le-pih stepped between the lamp-bearing
trees of the avenue, and folding his arms in his silken
vest, stood gazing in revery on the dancing waters. After a few
moments, one of the dark boats on which he had unconsciously
fixed his gaze drew silently toward him, and as the cushioned
stern was brought round to the bank, the boatman made a reverence
to his knees and sat waiting the poet's pleasure.

Like all men born to good fortune, Le-pih was prompt to follow
the first beckonings of adventure, and asking no questions, he
quietly embarked, and with a quick dip of the oars the boat shot


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from the shore and took the descending current. Almost in the
next instant she neared again to the curving and willow-fringed
margin of the stream, and lights glimmered through the branches,
and sweet, low music became audible, and by rapid degrees, a
scene burst on his eye, which the first glimpse into the gate of
paradise (a subsequent agreeable surprise, let us presume) could
scarcely have exceeded.

Without an exchange of a syllable between the boatman and
his freight, the stern was set against a carpeted stair at the edge
of the river, and Le-pih disembarked with a bound, and stood
upon a spacious area lying in a lap of the hill, the entire surface
carpeted smoothly with Persian stuffs, and dotted here and there
with striped tents pitched with poles of silver. Garlands of
flowers hung in festoons against the brilliant-colored cloths, and
in the centre of each tent stood a low tablet surrounded with
couches and laden with meats and wine. The guests, for whom
this portion of the entertainment was provided, were apparently
assembled at a spot farther on, from which proceeded the delicious
music heard by the poet in approaching; and, first entering
one of the abandoned tents for a goblet of wine, Le-pih
followed to the scene of attraction.

Under a canopy of gold cloth held by six bearers, stood the
imperial chair upon a raised platform—not occupied, however, the
august Tang reclining more at his ease, a little out of the circle,
upon cushions canopied by the moonlight. Around upon the
steps of the platform and near by, were grouped the noble ladies
of the court and the royal princesses (Tang living much in the
female apartments and his daughters numbering several score),
and all, at the moment of Lepih's joining the assemblage, turning
to observe a damsel with a lute, to whose performance the low


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sweet music of the band had been a prelude. The first touch of
the strings betrayed a trembling hand, and the poet's sympathies
were stirred, though from her bent posture and her distant position
he had not yet seen the features of the player. As the tremulous
notes grew firmer, and the lute began to give out a flowing
harmony, Le-pih approached, and at the same time, the listening
groups of ladies began to whisper and move away, and of those
who remained, none seemed to listen with pleasure except Kwonfootse
and the emperor. The latter, indeed, rivalled the intruding
bard in his interest, rolling over upon the cushions and resting
on the other imperial elbow in close attention.

Gaining confidence evidently from the neglect of her auditory,
or, as is natural to women less afraid of the judgment of the other
sex, who were her only listeners, the fair Taya (the youngest
daughter of Kwonfootse), now joined her voice to her instrument,
and sang with a sweetness that dropped like a plummet to the
soul of Le-pih. He fell to his knee upon a heap of cushions and
leaned eagerly forward. As she became afterward one of his
most passionate themes, we are enabled to reconjure the features
that were presented to his admiring wonder. The envy of the
princesses was sufficient proof that Taya was of rare beauty; she
had that wonderful perfection of feature to which envy pays its
bitterest tribute, which is apologized for if not found in the poet's
ideal, which we thirst after in pictures and marble, of which loveliness
and expression are but lesser degrees—fainter shadowings.
She was adorably beautiful. The outer corners of her long
almond-shaped eyes, the dipping crescent of her forehead, the
pencil of her eyebrow and the indented corners of her mouth—all
these turned downward; and this peculiarity which, in faces of a
less elevated character, indicates a temper morose and repulsive,


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in Taya's expressed the very soul of gentle and lofty melancholy.
There was something infantine about her mouth, the teeth were
so small and regular, and their dazzling whiteness, shining between
lips of the brilliant color of a cherry freshly torn apart, was
in startling contrast with the dark lustre of her eyes. Le-pih's
poetry makes constant allusion to those small and snowy teeth,
and the turned-down corners of the lips and eyes of his incomparable

Taya's song was a fragment of that celebrated Chinese romance
from which Moore has borrowed so largely in his loves of the
angels, and it chanced to be particularly appropriate to her deserted
position (she was alone now with her three listeners), dwelling
as it did upon the loneliness of a disguised Peri, wandering in
exile upon earth. The lute fell from her hands when she ceased,
and while the emperor applauded, and Kwonfootse looked on her
with paternal pride, Le-pih modestly advanced to the fallen
instrument, and with a low obeisance to the emperor and a hesitating
apology to Taya, struck a prelude in the same air, and
broke forth into an impulsive expression of his feelings in verse.
It would be quite impossible to give a translation of this famous
effusion with its oriental load of imagery, but in modifying it to
the spirit of our language (giving little more than its thread of
thought, the reader may see glimpses of the material from
which the great Irish lyrist spun his woof of sweet fable. Fixing
his keen eyes upon the bright lips just closed, Le-pih sang:—

When first from heaven's immortal throngs
The earth-doomed angels downward came,
And mourning their enraptured songs,
Walked sadly in our mortal frame;
To those, whose lyres of loftier string


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Had taught the myriad lips of heaven.
The song that they forever sing,
A wondrous lyre, 'tis said, was given.
`And go,' the seraph warder said,
As from the diamond gates they flew,
`And wake the songs ye here have led
In earthly numbers, pure and new!
And yours shall be the hallowed power
To win the lost to heaven again,
And when earth's clouds shall darkest lower
Your lyre shall breathe its holiest strain!
Yet, chastened by this inward fire,
Your lot shall be to walk alone,
Save when, perchance, with echoing lyre,
You touch a spirit like your own;
And whatsoe'er the guise you wear,
To him, 'tis given to know you there.'”

The song over, Le-pih sat with his hands folded across the
instrument and his eyes cast down, and Taya gazed on him with
wondering looks, yet slowly, and as if unconsciously, she took
from her breast a rose, and with a half-stolen glance at her father,
threw it upon the lute. But frowningly Kwonfootse rose from
his seat and approached the poet.

“Who are you?” he demanded angrily, as the bard placed
the rose reverently in his bosom.


With another obeisance to the emperor, and a deeper one to
the fair Taya, he turned, after this concise answer, upon his heel,
lifting his cap to his head, which, to the rage of Kwonfootse, bore
not even the gold ball of aristocracy.

“Bind him for the bastinado!” cried the infuriated mandarin
to the bearers of the canopy.


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The six soldiers dropped their poles to the ground, but the emperor's
voice arrested them.

“He shall have no violence but from you, fair Taya,” said the
softened monarch; “call to him by the name he has just pronounced,
for I would hear that lute again!”

“Le-pih! Le-pih!” cried instantly the musical voice of the
fair girl.

The poet turned and listened, incredulous of his own ears.

“Le-pih! Le-pih!” she repeated, in a soft tone.

Half-hesitating, half-bounding, as if still scarce believing he
had heard aright, Le-pih flew to her feet, and dropped to one
knee upon the cushion before her, his breast heaving and his eyes
flashing with eager wonder. Taya's courage was at an end, and
she sat with her eyes upon the ground.

“Give him the lute, Kwonfootse!” said the emperor, swinging
himself on the raised chair with an abandonment of the imperial
avoirdupois, which set ringing violently the hundred bells suspended
in the golden fringes.

“Let not the crow venture again into the nest of the eagle,”
muttered the mandarin between his teeth as he handed the instrument
to the poet.

The sound of the bells brought in the women and courtiers
from every quarter of the privileged area, and preluding upon
the strings to gather his scattered senses, while they were seating
themselves around him, Le-pih at last fixed his gaze upon the
lips of Taya, and commenced his song to an irregular harmony
well adapted to extempore verse. We have tried in vain to put
this celebrated song of compliment into English stanzas. It commenced
with a description of Taya's beauty, and an enumeration
of things she resembled, dwelling most upon the blue lily,


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which seems to have been Le-pih's favorite flower. The burthen
of the conclusion, however, is the new value everything assumed
in her presence. “Of the light in this garden,” he says, “there
is one beam worth all the glory of the moon, for it sleeps on the
eye of Taya. Of the air about me there is one breath which my
soul drinks like wine—it is from the lips of Taya. Taya looks on a
flower, and that flower seems to me, with its pure eye, to gaze
after her for ever. Taya's jacket of blue silk is my passion. If
angels visit me in my dreams, let them be dressed like Taya. I
love the broken spangle in her slipper better than the first star of
evening. Bring me, till I die, inner leaves from the water-lily,
since white and fragrant like them are the teeth of Taya. Call
me, should I sleep, when rises the crescent moon, for the blue
sky in its bend curves like the drooped eye of Taya,” &c., &c.

“By the immortal Fo!” cried the emperor, raising himself
bolt upright in his chair, as the poet ceased, “you shall be the
bard of Tang! Those are my sentiments better expressed! The
lute, in your hands, is my heart turned inside out! Lend me
your gold chain, Kwonfootse, and, Taya! come hither and put it
on his neck!”

Taya glided to the emperor, but Le-pih rose to his feet, with a
slight flush on his forehead, and stood erect and motionless.

“Let it please your imperial majesty,” he said, after a moment's
pause, “to bestow upon me some gift less binding than a

“Carbuncle of Budha! What would the youth have!” exclaimed
Tang in astonishment. “Is not the gold chain of a
mandarin good enough for his acceptance?”

“My poor song,” replied Le-pih, modestly casting down his
eyes, “is sufficiently repaid by your majesty's praises. The


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chain of the mandarin would gall the neck of the poet. Yet—
if I might have a reward more valuable—”

“In Fo's name what is it?” said the embarrassed emperor.

Kwonfootse laid his hand on his cimeter, and his daughter
blushed and trembled.

“The broken spangle on the slipper of Taya!” said Le-pih,
turning half indifferently away.

Loud laughed the ladies of the court, and Kwonfootse walked
from the bard with a look of contempt, but the emperor read
more truly the proud and delicate spirit that dictated the reply;
and in that moment probably commenced the friendship with
which, to the end of his peaceful reign, Tang distinguished the
most gifted poet of his time.

The lovely daughter of the mandarin was not behind the
emperor in her interpretation of the character of Le-pih, and as
she stepped forward to put the detached spangle into his hand,
she bent on him a look full of earnest curiosity and admiration.

“What others give me,” he murmured in a low voice, pressing
the worthless trifle to his lips, “makes me their slave; but what
Taya gives me is a link that draws her to my bosom.”

Kwonfootse probably thought that Le-pih's audience had lasted
long enough, for at this moment the sky seemed bursting into
flame with a sudden tumult of fire-works, and in the confusion that
immediately succeeded, the poet made his way unquestioned to
the bank of the river, and was reconveyed to the spot of his first
embarkation, in the same silent manner with which he had approached
the privileged area.

During the following month, Le-pih seemed much in request at
the imperial palace, but, to the surprise of his friends, the keeping
of “worshipful society” was not followed by any change in


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his merry manners, nor apparently by any improvement in his
worldly condition. His mother still sold mats in the public market,
and Le-pih still rode, every few days, to the marsh, for his
panniers of rushes, and to all comers, among his old acquaintances,
his lute and song were as ready and gratuitous as ever.

All this time, however, the fair Taya was consuming with a
passionate melancholy which made startling ravages in her
health, and the proud mandarin, whose affection for his children
was equal to his pride, in vain shut his eyes to the cause, and ate
up his heart with mortification. When the full moon came
round again, reminding him of the scenes the last moon had shone
upon, Kwonfootse seemed suddenly lightened of his care, and his
superb gardens on the Pei-ho were suddenly alive with preparations
for another festival. Kept in close confinement, poor Taya
fed on her sorrow, indifferent to the rumors of marriage which
could concern only her sisters; and the other demoiselles Kwonfootse
tried in vain, with fluttering hearts, to pry into their
father's secret. A marriage it certainly was to be, for the
lanterns were painted of the color of peach-blossoms—but whose

It was an intoxicating summer's morning, and the sun was
busy calling the dew back to heaven, and the birds wild with
entreating it to stay (so Le-pih describes it), when down the narrow
street in which the poet's mother plied her vocation, there
came a gay procession of mounted servants with a led horse
richly caparisoned, in the centre. The one who rode before held
on his pommel a velvet cushion, and upon it lay the cap of a
noble, with its gold ball shining in the sun. Out flew the neighbors
as the clattering hoofs came on, and roused by the cries and
the barking of dogs, forth came the mother of Le-pih, followed by


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the poet himself, but leading his horse by the bridle, for he had
just thrown on his panniers, and was bound out of the city to cut
his bundle of rushes. The poet gazed on the pageant with the
amused curiosity of others, wondering what it could mean, abroad
at so early an hour; but, holding back his sorry beast to let the
prancing horsemen have all the room they required, he was
startled by a reverential salute from the bearer of the velvet
cushion, who, drawing up his followers in front of the poet's
house, dismounted and requested to speak with him in private.

Tying his horse to the door-post, Le-pih led the way into the
small room, where sat his mother braiding her mats to a cheerful
song of her son's making, and here the messenger informed the
bard, with much circumstance and ceremony, that in consequence
of the pressing suit of Kwonfootse, the emperor had been pleased
to grant to the gifted Le-pih, the rank expressed by the cap
borne upon the velvet cushion, and that as a noble of the celestial
empire, he was now a match for the incomparable Taya.
Furthermore the condescending Kwonfootse had secretly arranged
the ceremonial for the bridal, and Le-pih was commanded to
mount the led horse and come up with his cap and gold ball to be
made forthwith supremely happy.

An indefinable expression stole over the features of the poet as
he took up the cap, and placing it on his head, stood gayly before
his mother. The old dame looked at him a moment, and the
tears started to her eyes. Instantly Le-pih plucked it off and
cast it on the waste heap at her side, throwing himself upon his
knees before her in the same breath, and begging her forgiveness
for his silly jest.

“Take back your bauble to Kwonfootse!” he said, rising
proudly to his feet, “and tell him that the emperor, to whom I


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know how to excuse myself, can easily make a poet into a noble
but he cannot make a noble into a poet. The male bird does not
borrow its brighter plumage from its mate, and she who marries
Le-pih will braid rushes for his mother!”

Astonished, indeed, were the neighbors, who had learned the
errand of the messenger from his attendants without, to see the
crest-fallen man come forth again with his cap and cushion.
Astonished much more were they, ere the gay cavalcade were
well out of sight, to see Le-pih appear with his merry countenance
and plebeian cap, and, mounting his old horse, trot briskly
away, sickle in hand, to the marshes. The day passed in wondering
and gossip, interrupted by the entrance of one person to
the house while the old dame was gone with her mats to the
market, but she returned duly before sunset, and went in as
usual to prepare supper for her son.

The last beams of day were on the tops of the pagodas when
Le-pih returned, walking beside his heavy-laden beast, and singing
a merry song. He threw off his rushes at the door and
entered, but his song was abruptly checked, for a female sat
on a low seat by his mother, stooping over a half-braided mat,
and the next moment, the blushing Taya lifted up her brimming
eyes and gazed at him with silent but pleading love.

Now, at last, the proud merriment and self respecting confidence
of Le-pih were overcome. His eyes grew flushed and his
lips trembled without utterance. With both his hands placed on
his beating heart, he stood gazing on the lovely Taya.

“Ah!” cried the old dame, who sat with folded hands and smiling
face, looking on at a scene which she did not quite understand,
though it gave her pleasure. “Ah! this is a wife for my
boy, sent from heaven! No haughty mandarin's daughter she!


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no proud minx to fall in love with the son and despise the
mother! Let them keep their smart caps and gift-horses for
those who can be bought at such prices! My son is a noble by
the gift of his Maker—better than an emperor's gold ball! Come
to your supper, Le-pih! Come, my sweet daughter!”

Taya placed her finger on her lip, and Le-pih agreed that the
moment had not yet come to enlighten his mother as to the
quality of her guest. She was not long in ignorance, however,
for before they could seat themselves at table, there was a loud
knocking at the door, and before the old dame could bless herself,
an officer entered and arrested the daughter of Kwanfootse
by name, and Le-pih and his mother at the same time, and there
was no dismissing the messenger now. Off they marched, amid
the silent consternation and pity of the neighbors—not toward
the palace of justice, however, but to the palace of the emperor,
where his majesty, to save all chances of mistake, chose to see
the poet wedded, and sit, himself, at the bridal feast. Tang had
a romantic heart, fat and voluptuous as he was, and the end of
his favor to Le-pih and Taya was the end of his life.