Qin Taoyu - 'Talking girl'

John Bjarne Grover

Yesterday 3 july 2021 there were news from London telling that there was a blast and fire in the underground station Elephant and Castle in London. (But as I now look at the web, it is listed as old news - while yesterday it was reported as going on).

I left the news and sat down at my desk and pulled a book '300 Tang poems' out from the bookshelf, opened it on a coincidental place and started to read. It had opened by coincidence on #222 = Qin Taoyu's poem 'A poor girl'. Some years ago I had copied the 300 Tang poems from


and printed out a copy on my home laser printer and bound it in light grey elephant paper for private home use.

When I now looked at this poem, which I cannot recall that I had read earlier, I decided to take a closer look at the chinese and when looking over the chinese glosses, it occurred to me that I spotted an 'elephant' in line 2 - 'tuo liang mei' = 'uolimant-gei' - and, in the mirror point in line 7, is there a 'castle' ('[ni]an ya jin') there?

As I looked at these glosses in my Mathews chinese-english dictionary, I suddenly noticed that my name seemed to be contained in the signs listed by Mathews on the adjacent places, following immediately after the proper signs - for just this 'elephant'. All signs in Mathews are enumerated from 1 to 7773 and the three signs that looks a little like 'elephant' in line 2 of the poem are Mathews #6461, 3941, 4397 - and then the adjacent signs are (see also the table below)

poem sign   9 = Mathews #6462 = 'tuo' = A watchman's rattle
poem sign 10 = Mathews #3942 = 'liang' = To jump. Hurriedly, to walk crookedly
poem sign 11 = Mathews #4398 = 'mei' = Coal, charcoal

which looked like 'jump-jar-negr-[r]øver' etc. Looking at the mirror place towards the end of line 7, I believed that I spotted things which reminded me of the name of my houseletter in Oslo in the late 80's and early 90's - notably perhaps because her name, at least her personal name but perhaps even her family name, could have been the same as the first girl I got interested in, at the age 5-6 (around 1962-63) in Molde - Anne-Lise was her name and maybe the family name was something like Myklebust. I therefore speculated if this could have been the fire in London - the name of the early attraction to a female I experienced in my life. Mathews sign #1058 can also mean 'tendon', while 'tend on' looked like those news?

'A Nelly-semi-klebust' could perhaps have been suggestive of the idea of (jewish?) genetics in the underpants? Into Hungary? This morning there was also a cigarette end of type Marlboro Gold (I think it was) left on a stairway step to my home. (Something similar could have happened also in the autumn 1999, I think it was).

But I had just pulled a book out of the shelf and opened it coincidentally, so I dont know.

But this would not have been in this poem itself - it would have been in the immediately following glosses in the dictionary of Mathews only. That is a little special - but Mathews may perhaps have somewhat of a special status. If that be the case, then the rest of the poem could perhaps be read that way as well. I have translated the poem here - word by word - and listed the immediately following glosses from Mathews, including number in the dictionary.

I may have met this poem earlier as well.

The poem seems to be standardly translated 'A poor girl' but I would translate the title 'Talking girl' - cp. also my own Kinderhilfe #136 (to chinese radical 204 = 'embroidery'). I first list the poem in chinese signs which can be clicked with the cursor for a lookup of the meanings and etymologies - the text itself is quoted from the web page


See also this page


Here is my word-by-word translation of Qin Taoyu's 'Talking girl':

Raspberries' doorway do not know the silken net fragrance
intends to ask a good decoy to increase the distress
that likes the breath to flow, a lofty reach to blend:
All sympathize the season of a frugal comb disguise.

Presume to hold 10 fingers' praise at needle's skilful art:
Do not lift eyebrows to provoke the picture staying long.
A sad desire year by year holds on the golden wire
to marry in the clothings of a wondrous apparance.

The 8 lines in the poem have 7 signs each, a total of 56 signs. The alternative reading of the sign in Mathews following just after the proper sign can be read from the following table - first I list the number of signs in the 8 lines and thereafter the corresponding signs with 'adjacent' meanings - since there normally are many signs under one pinyin syllable, the 'sound' of the following sign in Mathews will normally be the same as in the poem of Qin Taoyu - but the meanings are of course often very different:

Title Title

1           2           3           4           5           6           7          
8           9           10         11         12         13         14        
15         16         17         18         19         20         21        
22         23         24         25         26         27         28        

29         30         31         32         33         34         35        
36         37         38         39         40         41         42        
43         44         45         46         47         48         49        
50         51         52         53         54         55         56        

I here list the main meanings of the adjacent signs mentioned by Mathews - I think the book can be ordered through bookshops:

# in poem # in Mathews Pinyin         Main meanings
Title     5273 pin To receive commands. Disposition, natural endowment
Title 4777 nu To bleed at the nose
1 5069 pi To cause, to enable. That, so that, to the end that. To follow, to accord, to employ
2 4419 men Sign of the plural
3 7115 wei Flavour; taste; smell
4 5826 shi To poison; to sting. Venomous. Troublesome; oppressive
5 519 qi One-legged. Crippled, halt. A defect
6 4100 luo Smart, clever
7 2548 xiang A boat
8 4673 ni Greasy, fat. Oily, smooth, glossy
9 6462 tuo A watchman's rattle
10 3942 liang To jump. Hurriedly, to walk crookedly
11 4398 mei Coal, charcoal
12 3053 yi The throat
13 6961 zi To stab; to stick on. To erect
14 5667 shang To die young; to die
15 5924 shui A jade tablet given to feudal princes on their investiture, as a sign of authority and rank. A keepsake. A happy omen. Auspicious, lucky
16 10 ai A tone of disapproval. Warm, genial atmosphere
17 1891 feng The maple tree. Also used for the plane tree, the sycamore and the tallow-tree.
18 4081 liu A precious stone
19 3291 gao Dry. Rotten, as wood; withered
20 3310 ge The armpit; the arm. The side
21 6299 diao General name for perch, etc
22 3710 gong To supply, to contribute to
23 3997 lian A lady's dressing-case. A bridal trousseau
24 5781 shi To plant, to erect
25 5791 shi To buy on credit, to borrow. To let on hire
26 849 jian A double-edged sword
27 5861 shu Distant. To separate
28 1452 zhuang Form, appearance, shape
29 3230 gan The olive
30 657 jiang To exhort, to encourage. To commend. A prize or reward
31 5808 shi A file of ten soldiers. Ten. sundry, miscellaneous
32 960 zhi The fat of animals; lard; grease; ointment. Cosmetics; gums. Wealth
33 3531 kua To straddle, to bestride. To encroach upon. To pass over. To surpass, to excel
34 312 jin Pregnant
35 744 qiao High, stately; prouds
36 5380 bu A hood or cowl
37 4830 ba A kind of rake without teeth, used to smooth seedplots
38 5916 shuang A boat
39 4392 mei To flatter; to fawn on. To love, to coax. Attractive. Fascinating, seductive
40 6485 dou A hole; a drain; a sluice
41 2223 hua To rive, to divide, to mark, to cut
42 214 chang Rash. Wildly
43 3494 ku The skeleton. Bones. The shoulder blade.
44 2096 hen To pull, to drag, to stop
45 4712 nian The draw lots; to pick out; to take in the fingers
46 4712 nian The draw lots; to pick out; to take in the fingers
47 7232 ya To pull up; to eradicate
48 1058 jin The tendons; sinews or muscles. Nerves or veins
49 2724 xian A gland
50 7060 wei False; simulated; counterfeit
51 5962 ta Joined, connected. Piled up, crowded together. Repeated, reiterated. Greedy
52 3098 ren Man. Radical 10
53 6781 zuo To be ashamed
54 597 jia To sow grain. Sheaves of grain. Agricultural work
55 2990 yi To follow, to comply with. To trust to, to depend on. To obey. To be near to. According to
56 5672 chang To reward, to grant, to bestow, to give to an inferior. Rewards. To praise

The pinyin transcription was made with the initial help of a converter on the web - I think I used this one - but they are of course checked against Mathews.

Source (in addition to the internet 'wiktionary'):

Mathews, R.H.: Chinese-English Dictionary. (A Chinese-English Dictionary Compiled for the China Inland Mission by R.H.Mathews, Shanghai: China Inland Mission and Presbyterian Mission Press, 1931). Revised american edition 1943. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

© John Bjarne Grover
On the web 4 july 2021