Lament for My Younger Sister
In the winter of the year Dinghai of the Qianlong period, I buried my third younger sister Suwen on Mount Yangshan of Shangyuan County and consecrated the burial with this threnodical writing:
Alas! You, born in Zhejiang, are buried here, separated from our native place by seven hundred li. Although I like to dream and fancy, how could I know that this world be the burial ground of your remains?
Dictated by your idea of chastity and fidelity, you married an unworthy husband, and having been deserted by him, led a precarious, helpless and lonely life. Destined by fate, it was in fact the handiwork of Providence. But after all, I could hardly avoid the blame for having brought you to this pass. In my childhood I was instructed by my tutor in Confucian scriptures. During the lessons you sat with me shoulder to shoulder, and were fond of listening to the stories about the heroic and righteous martyrdom of the ancients. Having grown up, you hastened to follow their examples. Alas, supposing that you had been ignorant of the scriptures, you might not have carried your chastity and fidelity to such a degree!
Once when I was catching a cricket, you flung your little arms about and helped me gladly with my effort. In the winter the insect became stiff and dead, we buried it in its tiny grave. Now I am laying you out and burying you, the scenes of that day are conjured up vividly before my eyes. One day when I was only nine, I was taking a rest in my study when you came in with your double chignons and in your sateen robe. Then we reviewed the passage of Ziyi in the Book of Odes. At that moment our tutor opened the door and heard us uttering some reading aloud; he could not help smiling and uttering some praises. This happened on the fifteenth of the seventh month and must be fresh in your memory even in the netherworld. When I had come of age and was leaving for Canton, you tugged my dress and showed unfeigned grief. Three years later I returned with a Jinshi rank, and you, leaning on a table, came out of the east chamber. The whole family stared at me and then beamed with a smile. I do not remember whence the conversation began—probably from my obtaining the exalted rank in the capital and the courier’s reporting it timely or not. All these trivialities, though things of the past, I shall never forget so long as I am alive. Filled with such recollections, my heart is choked with sorrow. For they are like a shadow which, however distinct, evades you the moment you try to catch it. I regret that I did not keep a detailed record of our infantile activities. Now that you are no more in this world, no one would bear witness to all these, even if time should retrograde and childhood be restored.
After you had rightly divorced your husband, our aged mother depended on you for support and all the paperwork was up to you to do. I used to say that of the womanhood those who were enlightened on scriptural precepts and well versed in classical allusions were few. Your sister-in-law, though good-tempered and compliant, was somewhat deficient in this respect. Therefore, I was glad of your return, notwithstanding that I felt sad for your miserable plight. I was older than you by four years. The seniors are supposed to die earlier and I looked to you to be my posthumous trustee. I never thought that you should have passed away before me! Two years ago I was Ill. You inquired after me all through the nights, pleased with the least alleviation of my disease and worried over its slightest aggravation. Later, when I was a little better but was still bedridden, you came to my bedside, and told me, by way of my diversion, many amusing and amazing episodes from various anecdotes. Alas, henceforward, if I fall ill again, how am I to call for you?
Your disease I thought was not serious, as I believed the doctor’s diagnosis. So I went as far as Yangzhou to visit the ancient monuments. Fearing lest you should make me alarmed, you prevented the messenger from reporting to me until you, being far gone in your disease, were on the verge of death. Mother asked, “Do you wish to have your brother back?” You answered quite reluctantly, “Well then.” But I already dreamt the day before of your coming to bid me farewell. Taking it for an ill foreboding, I crossed the Yangtse as if by flight. Things happened as I had most dreaded. I returned just three hours after you had breathed your last. Your body remained lukewarm, with one eye not yet closed. This showed that you were prolonging your death agony to wait for me. Alas, how distressing it was! Had I known beforehand that I would be parted from you, I should not have gone far. Even if a long trip was impending, I had, however, so much confidence to share with you and so much to contrive with you before my departure. Now all is over! We shall never meet again, unless I die. Yet I have no idea when I shall die so as to see you. And, in the final analysis, it is still an enigma as to whether we shall have cognizance and reunion after death. Harbouring this everlasting remorse, I cry: O, Heaven, O man! Can it be true that all is gone, never to return?
I have put your poems into print and have married off your daughter in your stead. Besides, I have written a sketch of your life. Only your tomb has not yet been properly devised. The cemetery of our ancestors is in Hangzhou. Obstructed by the deep and broad river, you cannot be buried there. Acting on Mother’s instruction, I am laying you in peace at this place, it being convenient to render you offerings. Beside you is buried your daughter A Yin. Of the two graves lying below, one belongs to Zhu, Father’s second wife, another to Tao, my second wife. Mount Yangshan, with a view of spacious and distant country, overlooks a tract of lowlands in the south and confronts Mount Qixia in the west. Swept by wind and rain in the obscurity of early morning, your wandering ghost will have its companions and feel no solitude. Pitiable am I myself. Since you cried over your dead nephew in your dirge which I read in the year Wuyin, I have not had another son till now, and my two daughters are still in the babbling stage, as they, born after your death, are only one year old. Mother is still alive, I dare not speak of my decrepitude. None the less, my teeth are shaky and my head is bald. I keep surreptitiously wondering how long I shall remain in the land of the living. Brother A Pin holds office far in Henan and also has no children. Among the kinsmen not a single one can claim to be our inheritor. Among the kinsmen not a single one can claim to be our inheritor. You died and I am burying you. When I die, who is to bury me? If you are really a ghost, can you answer me?
Alas, I cannot hope to see you again when I am alive. Nor can I be sure of being cognizant of you after I die. I lament over you, yet do not hear you speak; I make offerings to you, but do not see you eat. The paper ashes are swirling in a vehement north wind. I am leaving you for home, still turning my head to look at you. Welladay! Welladay!