A Musical Encounter by Winnie Chung
“A Musical Encounter”
Wisp by wisp, tunes carelessly slips to one’s heart.
Step by step, in the search of such beauty.
Lost in reverie, slender arms dances on the instrument.
Dazzled in serendipity, noticed finally the cultured.
- 悠悠: melodious and pleasant.
- 婉: elegant and gentle.
- 樂: music.
- 入: to enter.
- 人心: 人: people ; 心:heart; 人心: people’s heart.
- 步步: 步:steps ; 步步:step by step.
- 聞: to hear.
- 聲: sound.
- 覓: in the search of.
- 佳音: 佳:pleasant, good, fair; 音: music; 佳音: good music.
- 凝神: 凝: to focus, to concentrate; 神: mental strength, attention; 凝神: highly focused.
- 醉琴: 醉: drunk, to indulge as if being drunk; 琴: in traditional ancient Chinese referring to the seven string zither ‘gu qin’. In modern Chinese, a lot of instruments has the word ‘琴’ in the translation, including but not limited to Western instruments. 醉琴: to be lost in the world of music.
- 舞: to dance.
- 纖纖: slender; 纖纖 as an reference to the idiomatic expression ‘纖纖玉手’, meaning ‘fine and slim arms like jade’, especially of a woman.
- 驀然: suddenly, unintentional, by chance.
- 舉目: 舉: to raise; 目: eyes, gaze. 舉目: raising one‘s gaze.
- 迎: to welcome, to run into.
- 翩翩: as in ‘翩翩公子’, an idiomatic expression meaning ‘a fine and educated young man with mannerism’, to echo ‘纖纖玉手’ in the previous line.
About The Poem (Seven-character quatrain, or “jueju”)
What is a quatrain? It is a common type of literature composition in Chinese culture with 4 lines in one stanza where each line consist of most commonly 5 or 7 words. During the ‘Middle Ages’ in Chinese History, roughly around Tang and Song Dynasty, the rules on form such as the use of symmetry, rhymes, tonal pattern design, antithesis between adjacent lines were particularly emphasised and most strictly followed, which led to the flourish of a majority of the best quatrains that survived history and marked the culmination of this literacy genre.
This seven-character quatrain — in a nut shell — is on an imaginary scene at an abstract space where music, a fair lady and a fine man claims the spot light. Inspiration for this piece emerges from foremost the love for music, and an association to a range of iconic culturally embedded imageries aiming at transcending the piece beyond what is apparently a scene with a quasi-romantic touch. That being said, though, “A Musical Encounter” is a piece intended originally for self-entertaining purposes, so readers may feel free to appreciate the romantic facet of the piece.
As to why I chose to write a quatrain, to some extent, I had no choice over what I would be writing until the first line and the first draft was born satisfactory. If it decided to go as far as 8 lines and the first line has 5 words, it would have become another genre. All I had was an incomplete and abstract idea of this scene, the intention to present it in poetry but never the control over what the final product would turn out. Of course this ‘no-control’ notion does not sit well alone, as I did intend to savour the fun and challenge in following the quatrain rules while still fitting in the ideas sufficiently, perhaps even to borrow the magic of literacy device to convey beyond. Turns out I did had fun composing.
The title was not included in the side-by-side annotations for a reason. Here’s why. Before diving into the meat, one shall be always be aware of the ubiquitous polysemy in Chinese characters and the possible encoding technique that could lay far outside the box. The piece title ‘會樂’consists of 2 words ‘會’and ‘樂’. ‘會’has two meanings, one meaning “knew, be capable of something”, the other meaning “to meet, to encounter”. ‘樂’ also has 2 meanings, “music” and “happiness”. The title itself is much more than just “A Musical Encounter”. The title can be read normally from left to right in “knows music”, or backwards from right to left as in “以樂會友”, meaning “making a friend through music”, or “joyful because of music”.
With the title explained, the poem opens with nothing but the acknowledgement of music present within the space. The music was never attention-seeking, it softly enchants before one realizes. As implied by the title, there was more than one person in this abstract space. In the second line, someone was walking in the search of the source of the beautiful music, but why bother locating it while you are already hearing it? Perhaps it is exceptionally true in this scenario that at the end of the day, music is never about the availability of its physical form, but the human associated with it. In Cantonese, 佳音 ‘gaai1 jam1’ is pronounced similarly to ‘gaai1 jan4’ 佳人, which means a desirable fair maiden. In Mandarin, 佳音 is pronounced ‘jia1 yin1’, which is also similar to 佳人‘jia1 ren2’.
The third line shed light on the source of the music. The scope shifted, and there she is, extremely focused, demonstrating virtuosity on her instrument, indulging in the world of music she owns. In a whim, someone, came into sight, and the poem ended at the exact moment when the longing gazes met each other.
There is a lot more subtitles and implicit cultural references inside the poem I could have explained, but I do not wish to ruin the joy of realizing the literary beauty on your own for you, so I shall stop revealing too much from now. Search certain words online, pay attention to the structure, and just think wildly. Have fun!
Winnie Chung is an undergraduate student at HKU majoring in Molecular Biology and Music, and has resided in Shun Hing College since September 2021.