Flutes

Lv Xiangyun(呂鄉筠), a merchant from Dongting(洞庭), often traded Dongting fish and shrimp for miscellaneous goods in Jiangxi. He took one-tenth of the profit and, with surplus earnings, supported poor relatives and friends, helping the needy thereafter. He never saved money for himself. Lv Xiangyun was skilled at playing the flute. Whenever he encountered beautiful landscapes, he would sail and enjoy the scenery, playing his flute.

Once, on a mid-spring night, Lv Xiangyun’s boat was moored near Junshan Island. He set up a solitary feast and drank from a jug. After a cup of wine, he played a few tunes on his flute and suddenly saw a fishing boat approaching amidst the misty waves. As it drew closer, he saw an old man with white hair steering the boat, exhibiting extraordinary demeanor.

Putting down his flute, Lv Xiangyun stood up to greet the old man. The old man tied his boat to Lv Xiangyun’s and walked over.

After exchanging pleasantries, the old man said, ‘I heard your flute playing, melodious and uncommon, so I came to see.’

Lv Xiangyun didn’t say much, drank a few more cups of wine, and the old man continued, ‘I learned to play the flute when I was young. Would you like me to teach you?’

Lv Xiangyun, always eager to learn from others, bowed and said, ‘I wish to become your disciple.’

The old man then took out three flutes from his sleeve. One was as large as two arms together, the second was of regular size, and the third was as small as a thin pen. Lv Xiangyun bowed again, asking the old fisherman to play a tune.

‘I cannot play the largest one, nor the middle one. I can use the smallest one to play a tune for you, but I’m not sure if I can finish it.’ Lv Xiangyun said, ‘I would like to hear the one you said cannot be played.’ Replied the old man.

He continued to explain, ‘The largest flute originally belonged in the heavens, played for the celestial emperors, consorts, and celestial beings, accompanying celestial music. If played in the mortal realm, it would cause humans to vanish, the sun and moon to lose their light, stars to fall from their positions, mountains to crumble, among other consequences, which I won’t elaborate on.

‘The second flute is for the immortal beings in the caves, Penglai, Shiguzhu, the immortals on fairy islands, and the Immortal Mother of the West on Mount Kunlun, played in their gatherings. If played in the mortal realm, stones would fly, sand would move, birds would fall from the sky, beasts’ heads would split, stars would collide within, and even young lives would be shaken to death, leaving no path for people to walk, among other consequences, which I won’t elaborate on.

‘The smallest flute is for entertainment among friends of my age. All creatures and living beings on earth can listen to it. But once played, they become restless, and whether I can finish a tune is uncertain.’

After finishing his explanation, the old man took out the smallest flute and played three notes.

A strong wind arose on the lake, causing waves to surge and fish and turtles to leap. Lv Xiangyun and his attendants were alarmed and terrified. After five or six notes, beasts on Junshan Island screeched, the moon in the sky dimmed, various boats on the lake swayed, and people on the boats panicked.

The old man stopped playing, drank several cups of wine in a row, and recited a poem: ‘The old man in the lake reads the Yellow Emperor’s classics, plucking purple thatch, sitting amidst emerald grass. In spring, he knows not the depth of the lake, at dusk, he forgets the path to Balin.(湘中老人讀黃老。手援紫藟坐翠草。春至不知湘水深,日暮忘卻巴陵道。)’

After reciting the poem, he drank a few more cups of wine and said to Lv Xiangyun, ‘Next autumn, let us meet again here.’ He then sailed away in his fishing boat, gradually disappearing into the depths of the lake.

The following autumn, Lv Xiangyun waited by Junshan Island for ten days, yet he never saw the old fisherman again.

Original text in 《博異誌》:

洞庭賈客呂鄉筠常以貨殖販江西明鈔本江西作山海。雜貨,逐什一之利。利外有羨,即施貧親戚,次及貧人。更無餘貯。善吹笛,每遇好山水,無不維舟探討,吹笛而去。嘗於中春月夜,泊於君山側。命罇酒獨飲。飲一杯而吹笛數曲。忽見波上有漁舟而來者,漸近,乃一老父鬢眉皤然,去就異常。鄉筠置笛起立,迎上舟。老父維漁舟於鄉筠舟而上,各問所宜。老父曰。聞君笛聲嘹亮,曲調非常,我是以來。鄉筠飲之數杯,老父曰。老人少業笛,子可教乎。鄉筠素所躭味。起拜,願為末學。老父遂於懷袖間出笛三管。其一大如合拱;其次大如常人之蓄者;其一絕小如細筆管。鄉筠復拜請老父一吹,老父曰。其大者不可發,次者亦然,其小者為子吹一曲。不知得終否。鄉筠曰。願聞其不可發者。老父曰。其第一者在諸天,對諸上帝,或元君,或上元夫人,合上天之樂而吹之。若於人間吹之,人消地拆,日月無光,五星失次,山嶽崩圯。不暇言其餘也。第二者對諸洞府仙人、蓬萊姑射、昆丘王母、及諸真君等,合仙樂而吹之,若人間吹之,飛沙走石,翔鳥墜地,走獸腦裂,五星內錯,稚幼振死。人民纏路。不暇言餘也。其小者,是老身與朋儕可樂者。庶類雜而聽之,吹的不安。明鈔本安作妨。未知可終曲否。言畢,抽笛吹三聲,湖上風動,波濤沆瀁。魚鼈跳噴。鄉筠及童仆恐聳讋栗。五聲六聲,君山上鳥獸叫噪,月色昏昧。舟檝大恐。老父遂止。引滿數杯,乃吟曰。湘中老人讀黃老。手援紫藟坐翠草。春至不知湘水深,日暮忘卻巴陵道。又飲數杯,謂鄉筠曰。明年社,與君期於此。遂棹漁舟而去,隱隱漸沒於波間。至明年秋,鄉筠十旬於筠山伺之,終不復見也。

illust: 張路《山水人物冊頁》, in the Ming Dynasty

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