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A Couplet in the Cold Spring Pavilion

Inscribed on the Cold Spring Pavilion in Lingyin Temple is couplet from the famous calligraphist and painter in Ming Dynasty, Dong Qichang:

“When did the spring become cold?(泉自几时冷起)

From where did the peak fly?”(峰从何处飞来)

Both lines in this couplet were designed into meaningful and thought-provoking questions. It is said that Zuo Zongtang, a Chinese statesman and military leader in the late Qing Dynasty, had attempted to write a couplet in response to the two questions:

“The temple is secluded; the water became cold from its source.

The world is unreal; the peak flew from beyond the sky.”

Another government official Jin Meisheng had also produced a couplet to answer the two questions:

“The spring water is faint and has no heart; only its owner knows whether it’s cold or warm.

The peaks and hills still have the landscape of spring; Buddhists cannot answer for its existence. ”

Yu Quyuan, a scholar in the late Qing Dynasty, remarked, “It is smart to answer for the soul of the mountain.” The story of his family’s repartee to this couplet became a well-known legend at that time. It is said that one day, Yu and his wife were visiting Lingyin Temple. While reading the couplet in the Cold Spring Pavilion, his wife said, “The questions in the couplet are very interesting.” and then asked Yu to produce a couplet in response to it. Immediately Yu replied:

“The spring became cold from its birth;

The peak flew from nihility.”

After listening to Yu’s couplet, his wife suggested that it can be modified into:

“The spring became cold from the time it became cold;

The peak flew from where it flew from.”

Later, when the daughter of Yu heard about their story, she also designed a couplet as a repartee.

“The spring became cold since Yu the Great,

The peak flew from the place Xiang Yu had been to.”

Yu was surprised by her couplet. He asked, “It is reasonable to say that after Yu the Great had controlled the flood the spring water started getting cold since then. But how do you explain the “Xiang Yu” in the second line?” The daughter replied, “How could the hills fly if Xiang Yu had not plucked them up?” By quoting the verse “My strength plucked up the hills” by Xiang Yu, she replied to the questions wittedly.


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