Joy of Life - Chapter 69

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:46:42]
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Chapter 69: The Poetry Battle

Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio

There was a whooshing sound as everyone’s gaze turned to Fan Xian. He smiled bashfully and cupped his hands. He did not pass himself off as an artist; after all, he was Fan Xian, not Fan Wei.[1]

The Crown Prince looked at him and almost began to laugh. He couldn’t believe what Miss Fan had said. A ten-year-old might be able to write good poetry, but to meticulously weave together such a poem as this? It wasn’t possible. He figured Fan Xian had written it the night before and gave it to Fan Ruoruo to pull out at the poetry contest in order to wow everyone.

He wasn’t angry; on the contrary, he was quite intrigued that someone as seemingly carefree as Fan Xian could write such a poem.

Fan Xian had no idea what the Crown Prince was thinking. The poem was from a poet in his previous world named Meng Haoran, who had written it to suck up to the minister Zhang Jiuling. It was of a far higher standard than the people at the contest, so he was confident that he had satisfied his father’s wishes.

Looking at the people around him, Guo Baokun began to get angry. He could never have imagined that this young man, all beauty and no brains, could write such a poem to save his skin. He wasn’t willing to let the matter lie. He laughed coldly. “Who knew Brother Fan was such a fine writer? Such work… and written at the tender age of ten.”

His words made it clear that he did not believe that the poem was written by Fan Xian.

Fan Xian sighed. Why did people always have to press him on such matters? When it came to composing poetry, in this world, who could be his match? After all, he had the works of the poets Li Bai, Du Fu, and Su Shi on his side, and a mastery of five thousand years of poetic tradition. He laughed. “I never write compositions on set topics.”

Guo Baokun regarded Fan Xian’s thoroughly confident manner and gritted his teeth as he spoke. “Then Brother Fan, I invite you to write on a topic of your choosing, and let all of the capital bear witness to your brilliance.”

Fan Xian frowned and glanced coolly at this troublesome scholar. He wrote down a poem, then left the garden, asking the servants to escort him to the latrine.

A single poem is recited in a resounding voice that stuns the garden and forces the defeated enemy into retreat.

The poem he wrote was powerful and resonant. The entire garden was stunned; his victory had been absolute.

After a bout of cheering, everyone was still pondering its meaning. Guo Baokun’s face went a pale green color, and he was unable to speak. The Crown Prince felt unable to hold his fan without incurring Fan Xian’s judgement on his character. He closed it shut with a bang, and read the poem aloud.

“The ape cries out in the windy skies. Birds circle round the islet of clear white sand. Trees shed leaves endlessly, rustling down. The great river surges on ceaselessly. Ten thousand miles in sorrowful autumn, always someone’s guest. A hundred years of ailments, I climb the terrace alone. With much suffering, I regret my white temples. Frustratingly, I stop drinking my murky wine..”

“Sorrow, clarity, ceaselessness, endlessness, ten thousand miles, autumn, guests, one hundred years, sickness, loneliness, and the worries of all eternity; all of these condensed into a single cup of wine! Bravo! Bravo!” The Crown Prince praised him loudly, before realizing how overly-carefree he must have looked. In fact, he was feeling sad about his father. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt a certain heartache and a powerful sorrow. He shook his head and said nothing for a long while.

Some time later, he came to a realization: Fan Xian was so young; even if his life had been miserable, how could he say that the hair on his temples was white, and he had suffered so much illness? It was something he couldn’t understand. It didn’t make any sense at all. But everyone was still lost in the atmosphere of the poem. Watching the sunset, whether rich or poor, brings to one’s mind the impermanence of life, the inevitability of loss. And so everyone had simply forgotten any of the discrepancies between the poem and Fan Xian’s own life.

And no one doubted that it was his work. After all, no one but an expert in the world of poetry could write such a thing. An expert would not be willing to write such a poem even on behalf of the Emperor, let alone on behalf of the young son of the Fan family.

“With this poem, even if Master Fan decided never to write again, it would not matter,” sighed Crown Prince Jing. The scholars by the lake remained speechless. They all knew that none of them could ever write a finer poem, and so the whole contest fell silent as a result of Fan Xian’s work. They never even noticed that the author had already slipped away.


In all honesty, the poem fit neither the time nor circumstances, but Fan Xian felt a desperate need to relieve himself, so he quickly wrote down something he had memorized just so he could finish off his enemy. He had relieved himself of two burdens: the first being that scoundrel Guo Baokun; the other, more-urgent one being from when he had drunk a little too much in his earlier boredom.

Hiking up his pants as he left the toilet, he gave a sigh of relief, fastened his belt, took a towel from the servant and wiped his hands. On his way back, he came across a beautiful plant nursery that was filled with soft green leaves and delicate flowers. He felt the energy of life itself underneath the tall trees beneath the evening light.

He turned and asked the servant whether it was possible for him to go in and look around. The servant knew that this was the older brother of the Fan family. Fan Xian’s younger sister, and the younger brother, Fan Sizhe, had before run around the grounds of the prince’s mansion as he pleased. Naturally, he could not say no, and so he respectfully replied that it would be no problem.

Fan Xian was quite pleased and sent the servant away as he walked into the nursery and looking around. He discovered that the nursery was lacking the rare flowers beloved by rich families; instead, a number of plants were there that he could not name. They were crude and awkward-looking, possibly wild herbs or crops.

He was curious. The Crown Prince’s family mansion was extraordinary, and yet they had planted these things.

As he wandered around the garden, the sunlight was still bright, but the sky above him was obstructed by a canopy of trees, so all seemed peaceful. He could hear the lively chirping of birds returning to their nests, and surrounded by such greenery, he felt very much at ease. Fan Xian was very happy to break away from that boring poetry contest. He hummed a folk song to himself as he walked further in, smiling as he walked. “Maybe I’ll run into a fairy, just like Duan Yu had,” he said to himself. [2]

“Who are you?”

Someone stood up from the thicket of plants, regarding Fan Xian with curiosity.

Fan Xian was taken aback. He should have listened more carefully, he thought. Walking this far away from anyone, if this was a murderer, he would be done for. After he had come to the capital, it seemed that he had significantly lowered his guard.

He looked at the person in front of him, and laughed at himself.

The person certainly wasn’t Wang Yuyan[3], and it wasn’t the girl in white who he couldn’t get out of his mind. It was a middle-aged gardener, with a hoe in his hand and a muddy basket by his feet. He had a fair and honest face, with a slightly hurried look in his eyes. It appeared that, seeing the clothes that Fan Xian was wearing, he was somewhat reverent.

Fan Xian smiled, and cupped his hands to the gardener in salute. “I’m sorry to have surprised you. I’m a guest of the prince; I saw all these wonderful plants on my way back, so I thought I’d have a look around.

The gardener wiped his hands on his clothes, seemingly unsure how to greet Fan Xian. After hearing praise for his garden, he smiled earnestly.

[1] Fan Wei, a Chinese sitcom and film actor.

[2] Duan Yu, a character from the wuxia novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils.

[3] Wang Yuyan, another character from Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, with whom Duan Yu falls in love at first sight because she resembles a statue of a fairy-like lady he chanced upon before.