Yuan Mei: Lament for My Younger Sister ~ 袁枚 《祭妹文》 with English Translations

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小编导读:《祭妹文》是清代文学家袁枚的一篇散文,是中国古代文学史上哀祭散文的珍品。这篇祭文从兄妹之间的亲密关系着眼,选取自己所见、所闻、所梦之事,对妹妹袁机的一生做了绘声绘色的描述,渗透着浓厚的哀悼、思念以及悔恨的真挚情感。文章记述袁机在家庭生活中扶持奶奶,办治文墨,写她明经义,谙雅故,表现出妹妹的德能与才华。写的虽然都是家庭琐事,却描述得“如影历历”,真切可信。

袁枚 《祭妹文》

乾隆丁亥冬,葬三妹素文于上元之羊山,而奠以文曰:

呜呼!汝生于浙而葬于斯;离吾乡七百里矣。当是时虽觭梦幻想;宁知此为归骨所耶?

汝以一念之贞,遇人仳离,致孤危托落。虽命之所存,天实为之。然而累汝至此者,未尝非予之过也。予幼从先生授经,汝差肩而坐,爱听古人节义事;一旦长成,遽躬蹈之。呜呼!使汝不识诗书,或未必艰贞若是。

余捉蟋蟀,汝奋臂出其间。岁寒虫僵,同临其穴。今予殓汝葬汝,而当日之情形,憬然赴目。予九岁憩书斋,汝梳双髻,披单缣来,温《缁衣》一章。适先生奓户入,闻两童子音琅琅然,不觉莞尔,连呼则则。此七月望日事也。汝在九原,当分明记之。予弱冠粤行,汝掎裳悲恸。逾三年,予披宫锦还家,汝从东厢扶案出,一家瞠视而笑;不记语从何起,大概说长安登科,函使报信迟早云尔。凡此琐琐,虽为陈迹,然我一日未死,则一日不能忘。旧事填膺,思之凄梗,如影历历,逼取便逝。悔当时不将嫛婗情状,罗缕纪存。然而汝已不在人间,则虽年光倒流,儿时可再,而亦无与为证印者矣。

汝之义绝高氏而归也,堂上阿奶,仗汝扶持;家中文墨,目失汝办治。尝谓女流中最少明经义,谙雅故者;汝嫂非不婉嫕,而于此微缺然。故自汝归后,虽为汝悲,实为予喜。予又长汝四岁,或人间长者先亡,可将身后托汝,而不谓汝之先予以去也。前年予病,汝终宵刺探,减一分则喜,增一分则忧。后虽小差,犹尚殗碟,无所娱遣,汝来床前,为说稗官野史可喜可愕之事,聊资一欢。呜呼!今而后,吾将再病,教从何处呼汝耶!

汝之疾也,予信医言无害,远吊扬州。汝又虑戚吾心,阻人走报;及至绵惙已极,阿妈问望兄归否?强应曰:“诺”。已予先一日梦汝来诀,心知不详,飞舟渡江。果予以未时还家,而汝已辰时气绝。四肢犹温,一目未瞑,盖犹忍死待予也。呜呼痛哉!早知诀汝,则予岂肯远游?即游,亦尚有几许心中言,要汝知闻,共汝筹画也。而今已矣!除吾死外,当无见期;吾又不知何日死,可以见汝;而死后之有知无知,与得见不得见,又卒难明也。然则抱此无涯之憾,天乎,人乎,而竟已乎!

汝之诗,吾已付梓;汝之女,吾已代嫁;汝之生平,吾已作传;惟汝之窀穸,尚未谋耳。先茔在杭,江广河深,势难归葬,故请母命而宁汝于斯,便祭扫也。其旁葬汝女阿印;其下两冢,一为阿爷侍者朱氏,一为阿兄侍者陶氏。羊山矿渺,南望原隰,西望栖霞,风雨晨昏,羁魂有伴,当不孤寂。所怜者,吾自戊寅年读汝哭侄诗后,至今无男,两女牙牙,生汝死后,才周晬耳。予虽亲在未敢言老,而齿危发秃,暗里自知,知在人间,尚复几日!阿品远官河南,亦无子女,九族无可继者。汝死我葬,我死谁埋?汝倘有灵,可能告我?

呜呼!身前既不可想,身后又不可知;哭汝既不闻汝言,奠汝又不见汝食。纸灰飞扬,朔风野大,阿兄归矣,犹屡屡回头望汝也,呜呼哀哉!呜呼哀哉!

Lament for My Younger Sister
Yuan Mei

In the winter of the year Dinghai of the Qianlong period, I buried my third younger sister Suwen on Mount Yangshan of Shangyuan County and consecrated the burial with this threnodical writing:

Alas! You, born in Zhejiang, are buried here, separated from our native place by seven hundred li. Although I like to dream and fancy, how could I know that this world be the burial ground of your remains?

Dictated by your idea of chastity and fidelity, you married an unworthy husband, and having been deserted by him, led a precarious, helpless and lonely life. Destined by fate, it was in fact the handiwork of Providence. But after all, I could hardly avoid the blame for having brought you to this pass. In my childhood I was instructed by my tutor in Confucian scriptures. During the lessons you sat with me shoulder to shoulder, and were fond of listening to the stories about the heroic and righteous martyrdom of the ancients. Having grown up, you hastened to follow their examples. Alas, supposing that you had been ignorant of the scriptures, you might not have carried your chastity and fidelity to such a degree!

Once when I was catching a cricket, you flung your little arms about and helped me gladly with my effort. In the winter the insect became stiff and dead, we buried it in its tiny grave. Now I am laying you out and burying you, the scenes of that day are conjured up vividly before my eyes. One day when I was only nine, I was taking a rest in my study when you came in with your double chignons and in your sateen robe. Then we reviewed the passage of Ziyi in the Book of Odes. At that moment our tutor opened the door and heard us uttering some reading aloud; he could not help smiling and uttering some praises. This happened on the fifteenth of the seventh month and must be fresh in your memory even in the netherworld. When I had come of age and was leaving for Canton, you tugged my dress and showed unfeigned grief. Three years later I returned with a Jinshi rank, and you, leaning on a table, came out of the east chamber. The whole family stared at me and then beamed with a smile. I do not remember whence the conversation began—probably from my obtaining the exalted rank in the capital and the courier’s reporting it timely or not. All these trivialities, though things of the past, I shall never forget so long as I am alive. Filled with such recollections, my heart is choked with sorrow. For they are like a shadow which, however distinct, evades you the moment you try to catch it. I regret that I did not keep a detailed record of our infantile activities. Now that you are no more in this world, no one would bear witness to all these, even if time should retrograde and childhood be restored.

After you had rightly divorced your husband, our aged mother depended on you for support and all the paperwork was up to you to do. I used to say that of the womanhood those who were enlightened on scriptural precepts and well versed in classical allusions were few. Your sister-in-law, though good-tempered and compliant, was somewhat deficient in this respect. Therefore, I was glad of your return, notwithstanding that I felt sad for your miserable plight. I was older than you by four years. The seniors are supposed to die earlier and I looked to you to be my posthumous trustee. I never thought that you should have passed away before me! Two years ago I was Ill. You inquired after me all through the nights, pleased with the least alleviation of my disease and worried over its slightest aggravation. Later, when I was a little better but was still bedridden, you came to my bedside, and told me, by way of my diversion, many amusing and amazing episodes from various anecdotes. Alas, henceforward, if I fall ill again, how am I to call for you?

Your disease I thought was not serious, as I believed the doctor’s diagnosis. So I went as far as Yangzhou to visit the ancient monuments. Fearing lest you should make me alarmed, you prevented the messenger from reporting to me until you, being far gone in your disease, were on the verge of death. Mother asked, “Do you wish to have your brother back?” You answered quite reluctantly, “Well then.” But I already dreamt the day before of your coming to bid me farewell. Taking it for an ill foreboding, I crossed the Yangtse as if by flight. Things happened as I had most dreaded. I returned just three hours after you had breathed your last. Your body remained lukewarm, with one eye not yet closed. This showed that you were prolonging your death agony to wait for me. Alas, how distressing it was! Had I known beforehand that I would be parted from you, I should not have gone far. Even if a long trip was impending, I had, however, so much confidence to share with you and so much to contrive with you before my departure. Now all is over! We shall never meet again, unless I die. Yet I have no idea when I shall die so as to see you. And, in the final analysis, it is still an enigma as to whether we shall have cognizance and reunion after death. Harbouring this everlasting remorse, I cry: O, Heaven, O man! Can it be true that all is gone, never to return?

I have put your poems into print and have married off your daughter in your stead. Besides, I have written a sketch of your life. Only your tomb has not yet been properly devised. The cemetery of our ancestors is in Hangzhou. Obstructed by the deep and broad river, you cannot be buried there. Acting on Mother’s instruction, I am laying you in peace at this place, it being convenient to render you offerings. Beside you is buried your daughter A Yin. Of the two graves lying below, one belongs to Zhu, Father’s second wife, another to Tao, my second wife. Mount Yangshan, with a view of spacious and distant country, overlooks a tract of lowlands in the south and confronts Mount Qixia in the west. Swept by wind and rain in the obscurity of early morning, your wandering ghost will have its companions and feel no solitude. Pitiable am I myself. Since you cried over your dead nephew in your dirge which I read in the year Wuyin, I have not had another son till now, and my two daughters are still in the babbling stage, as they, born after your death, are only one year old. Mother is still alive, I dare not speak of my decrepitude. None the less, my teeth are shaky and my head is bald. I keep surreptitiously wondering how long I shall remain in the land of the living. Brother A Pin holds office far in Henan and also has no children. Among the kinsmen not a single one can claim to be our inheritor. Among the kinsmen not a single one can claim to be our inheritor. You died and I am burying you. When I die, who is to bury me? If you are really a ghost, can you answer me?

Alas, I cannot hope to see you again when I am alive. Nor can I be sure of being cognizant of you after I die. I lament over you, yet do not hear you speak; I make offerings to you, but do not see you eat. The paper ashes are swirling in a vehement north wind. I am leaving you for home, still turning my head to look at you. Welladay! Welladay!

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