The Art of Lamentation in the Works of Pan Yue: "Mourning the Eternally Departed."

By Lai, C. M. | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, July-September 1994 | Go to article overview

The Art of Lamentation in the Works of Pan Yue: "Mourning the Eternally Departed."


Lai, C. M., The Journal of the American Oriental Society


Pan Yue (247-300) excelled in the writing of shi poetry, fu, and dirges (lei), and the high literary standard evident in his works has earned him a place of dinction in Chinese literature.(2) Literary critics in their praise laud his works on lamentation as being pioneering and innovative in theme and craft.(3) Acclaim for Pan's dirges is evident in the influential anthology, Wen xuan (Selections of Refined Literature), in that his works represent over half of the dirges selected by Xiao Tong (501-31), not to mention the selection of his other works concerning the theme of lamentation.(4) In a striking departure from his literary predecessors, Pan Yue was notably gifted in expressing personal lamentation in his pieces, even in dirges, a public form conventionally reserved for an official function. In his works on death, Pan mourned many individuals among his family and friends. Such a desire to write about the passing of family and friends is regarded in contemporary times as an accepted, even natural, response from a writer. However, for Pan Yue to write about the people who were very dear to him, but who were nonetheless "ordinary" and fairly insignificant in their position in society, was unusual in third-century China.

In popular history, Pan Yue is famous for two things. First, he was known as a most handsome man, and his name has become a byword for comeliness.(5) Second, he is admired for the eloquent verse lamentations he wrote on the death of his wife, Lady Yang. The mourning of one's wife, unlike that of one's parents, was not regarded as a virtuous duty.(6) Therefore it is exceptional that the majority of Pan's works on mourning concern his wife. Written over a period of time, Pan's fu and shi poems concerning the death of his wife impart to the reader a genuine sense of grief and emphasize his enduring sense of loss. His most famous work, "Poems Lamenting Her Death" ("Dao wang shi"), is a set of poems in pentasyllabic verse written about the mourning, formal and otherwise, of Lady Yang's death; these poems are not in chronological sequence and may have been composed following the mourning period, after Pan returned to office.(7) Also of great significance are the fu pieces, "Fu Lamenting Her Death" ("Dao wang fu") and "Mourning the Eternally Departed" ("Ai yongshi wen"), the latter of which is the more intact and finely crafted of the two? Both fu compositions describe the pre-interment rituals and obsequies for his wife.

Pan Yue's literary responses to the deaths of family members and friends are rich in details of mourning and funerary rites that were of utmost consideration during his time, and which continue to be important in present-day Chinese society.(9) Such careful attention given to realistic description is a distinctive feature of Pan's craft, exemplified in his accounts of the obsequies for his wife. This trend toward a realistic portrayal of events and circumstances began prior to the late third century. However, with his masterful command of language, Pan refined this tendency through the use of imagery that is realistically and accurately descriptive of natural and cosmic phenomena, frequently expressed by means of five-phases correlatives.(10) This was enhanced by other stylistic innovations, including a conscious crafting of parallelism and prosody.(11)

In Pan Yue's works on death and mourning, especially in his lamentations for Lady Yang, Pan provides us with an informative and enlightening look at mourning rites before the funeral, the funeral itself, and the period of mourning after burial. His laments, in particular "Mourning the Eternally Departed," are heavily couched in the language of the ritual classics, Li ji (Records of Rituals) and Yi li (Ceremonies and Rituals), although these texts do not give foremost consideration to the rites of mourning one's wife. Later critics commend Pan Yue for his rhetorical flourishes, but they chastise him for using the language of these ritual texts in inappropriate cases. …

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