Friday, December 14, 2007

Sword Dance by a Pupil of Lady Gongsun

"There lived many years ago the beautiful Lady Gongsun,
Who, dancing with her sword, drew from all four quarters
An audience like mountains lost among themselves.

Heaven and Earth moved back and forth, following her motions,
Bright as when the Archer shot the Nine Suns down from the sky
And rapid as angels before the wings of dragons.

She began like a thunderbolt, venting its anger,
And ended like the shining calm of rivers and sea.

But vanished are those red lips and those pearly sleeves;
And none but this one talented pupil bears the perfume of her fame,
This sword dancer from Lingying, the Town of the White Goddess,
Who still dances and sings in the carefree old ways.

After the dance, we chatted for awhile.
We sighed together, saddened by the changes that have come.
There were a thousand ladies in the late Emperor's court;
But Lady Gongsun's sword dance was first among them all.

Fifty years have passed, like the turning of a hand;
Wind and dust, filling the world, obscure the Imperial House.
Instead of the Pear Garden Players, gone like the fog,
Only two girl musicians remain to charm the cold Sun.

There are now man-sized trees by the Emperor's Golden Tomb.
I seem to hear dead grasses rustling on the windy cliffs of Qutang.
The song is done, the slow strings and quick flutes have ceased.
At the height of joy, sorrow comes with the eastern moon rising.

And I, a poor old man, not knowing where to go,
Walk away slowly into the lonely hills, tired, facing the sunset."

- Du Fu, The Sword Dance Performed by a Pupil of Lady Gongsun
"300 Chinese Poems" The poet Du Fu (712-770, 杜甫) mentioned in his poem "Witnessing Gongsun Da Niang's Disciple Sword Dance Performance" (观公孙大娘弟子舞剑器行) that there was a female sword dancer in the court of Emperor Xuan Zong (唐玄宗) who was probably the greatest in her field.

"Another aspect of the martial dance is the "sword dance," devised by master swordsmen. Ancients sought to combine the ethos of swordsmanship with the sword dance, calling it "sword vigor." The most famous sword dancer of the Tang Dynasty was legendary beauty, Lady Gongsun. As a child, the celebrated Tang poet Du Fu once watched her dance, and the specter created by her superb skill remained forever fresh in his memory. The square in Yancheng, Henan Province was a sea of people. Following a roll of drums, Lady Gongsun appeared, rapier in hand. The sword glinted with every change of posture and stance, whispering like silk on being unsheathed and flashing at each thrust. Her dancing seemed to evince a power that could hold back rivers and repulse oceans. Years later, Du Fu watched the sword dance performed by Li Shi'erniang, one of Gongsun's adherents. Her execution of it was so reminiscent of Gongsun's original performance that Du Fu, now in his 50s, was fired with new vitality, and wrote a poem, 'The Sword Dance Performed by a Girl-Pupil of Lady Gongsun.'"
- Tang Dynasty Dances


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