《古都的秋》|原作 朱自清|英译 徐英才|诵读 李莉（中文诵读）
《古都的秋》|原作 朱自清|英译 徐英才|诵读 李莉（英文诵读）
Autumn in My Old Capital
Autumn, no matter where it happens, is always appealing, but autumn in Northern China, especially, is less diluted, quieter, and more melancholy. It is merely for the purpose of fully tasting these “flavors”—the autumnal flavors of my old capital—that I braved the long trip from Hangzhou to Qingdao and then to Peiping.
Autumn, of course, also happens in the south, but in a southern autumn, the flora is slower to wither, the air is denser with moisture, the sky is lighter in color, and it is more often rainy than windy. Muddling along as a loner, engulfed among the residents of the near southern cities like Suzhou, Shanghai, or Hangzhou, or the far southern ones like Xiamen, Hong Kong, or Guangzhou, I can only feel a little bit of the pureness and melancholy of autumn. There, I have never seen enough of the views of autumn, tasted enough of flavors of autumn, or explored enough of the poetic imagery of autumn. Autumn is neither a famous flower nor a luscious wine. That state of half-blooming and half-intoxication is not appropriate to the understanding of the season.
It has been more than a decade since I last experienced autumn in the north. In the south, every year when autumn came, I would always miss the reed catkins at the Joyous Pavilion, the willow silhouettes by the Fishing Tower, the chirping of insects in the West Hills, the midnight moon above the Jade Spring, and the chiming of the bells from the Poolside Mulberry Temple. In Beijing, however, even though you stay at home—say, you reside in a dilapidated rented house in the imperial city, with a sea of inhabitants, and you get up in the morning, making a bowl of strong tea, and sit in a spot facing the entire yard—you can also see the azure color high in the sky and hear the noise the domesticated pigeons make when they fly under the blue sky. From beneath a locust tree, counting strip after strip of sunbeams dripping down from the east through the foliage or quietly looking at the blue flowers of trumpet-shaped morning glories rooted in the middle of a broken wall, you will also automatically get a deep sense of autumn. Speaking of morning glories, I think the blue or white flowers are the best, the purple-blacks come next, and the light-reds rank last. If there are a few long, thin autumn grasses loosely spread out under them to set them off, so much the better.
The northern locust tree is yet another scenic element that would make people think of autumn. When you get up in the morning, you will see stamens and pistils—which look like flowers, but are actually not—all over the ground. When you step on them, you don’t hear anything or smell anything; you only have an extremely light and soft feeling of contact. After the street cleaner sweeps the tree-shaded ground, you will see strip after strip of sweeping marks on the earth. They look delicate and inspire a sense of leisure, and your subconscious mind will even register a little feeling of desolation. This is perhaps where lies the profound meaning of the ancient poetic line that “A falling leaf from a Chinese parasol manifests the arrival of autumn.”
The lingering, weak chirping of the autumnal harvest flies is even more characteristic of the north. Because there are trees everywhere and the houses are not very tall in Peiping, you can hear the harvest flies wherever you go. But in the south, you won’t be able to hear anything unless you go to the suburbs or take a trip into the hills. In Peiping, harvest flies, which are as common as crickets or mice, are like house pets for every family.
Don’t forget the autumnal rain! The autumnal rain in the north seems to fall in a way more distinctive, more flavorsome, and more akin to rain than that in the south.
Under the grey sky, after an abrupt cool wind comes the pitter-patter of rain. Soon after the brisk rain is over, the clouds begin to slowly roll to the west, the sky starts to turn blue again, and the sun pops its face out once more. A tobacco pipe between his lips, a leisurely townsman, clad in a thick lined jacket or a dark blue padded coat, would step out of the shade of the rain-washed skew bridge and stand under a bridgehead tree; when he sees someone he knows, he would let out a light sigh and say, in a slow and leisurely tone,
“Gosh, it’sss really getting chilly—” (Emphasizing the progressive “s” by highly pitching and dragging it.)
“Exactly! Hence, the saying ‘Each burstr of autumnal rain adds a burstr of chilliness!’”
When northerners pronounce the word “burst,” it always sounds like “burstr.” But, in terms of cadence, this distortion in pronunciation has the benefit of creating an accidental rhyme.
When autumn comes, the fruit trees in the north also boast of an unusual scene. The date trees should be the first kind. They grow everywhere—around the corners of houses, on walls, by outhouses, next to kitchen cabins. When the dates, like olives or pigeon eggs, begin to show their light-green and light-yellow colors amid the small oval-shaped leaves, the autumn season has reached its prime. By the time the leaves have fallen and the dates themselves have finished turning red, the northwest wind will start to blow, and this will then make the north a dusty and muddy world. The best period of an undiluted autumn in the north is at the transitional period between July and August, when dates, persimmons, and grapes are almost completely ripe. These are the golden days of the year.
Some critics say that all Chinese scholars, men of letters, and especially poets, have a strong propensity for decadence and that’s why quite a number of Chinese poems eulogize autumn. But don’t foreign poets do the same? I have neither delved much into foreign poetry nor want to make a list that will turn my pure prose into a piece of quotation-riddled lyric prose about autumn, but if you flip through a collection of poetry from Britain, Germany, France, Italy, etc. or through a poetry anthology from each of these countries, you are bound to see much eulogizing and bemoaning of the season.
The best-written and most exquisite parts of the voluminous idyllic pastoral poetry or of the verses on the four seasons produced by famous poets are those that describe autumn. This clearly reveals that all sentient animals and appreciative humans share an identical mentality toward the autumn season, which always gives them a deep, remote, serious, serious, and melancholic feeling. I believe that when autumn comes, not only poets, but even prison inmates, have deep, uncontrollable emotions. When it comes to autumn, no differences exist between nations, ethnicities or social classes. Since there is a term “autumnal scholar” in the Chinese language and some popular “autumnal verses” such as Ode to Autumnal Sounds by Ouyang Xiu and Ode to the Red Cliff by Su Shi, one would feel that the Chinese literati have a more profound relationship with autumn than their western counterparts. But this profound flavor of autumn, especially the profound flavor of a Chinese autumn, can only be tasted in the north.
Autumn in the south, of course, also has its special characteristics. Take, for instance, the bright moon over the Twenty-fourth Bridge, the autumnal tides in the Qiantang River, the cool mist on Mount Putuo, the late lotus in the Litchi Fruit Bay, etc. But none of these is deep in color, and none leaves a permanent aftertaste. Comparing a southern autumn to a northern autumn is like comparing yellow wine to white spirits, rice gruel to steamed bread, perch to big crab, or dogs to camels.
If I could keep autumn—this autumn of northern China—from leaving, I would trade two thirds of my lifetime for a life only a third as long but spent entirely in autumn.