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XLTQT   ToC / Autumn theme Listen 聽錄音   首頁
47. Knowing Autumn from a Single Leaf
- Shang mode:2 standard tuning played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
Yi Ye Zhi Qiu  
  Meridel Rubenstein: A Single Leaf 3    
"Knowing autumn from a single leaf" is a direct translation of "Yi Ye Zhi Qiu"; more completely it would be "Knowing that autumn is coming from seeing a single leaf fall". This phrase is a metaphor suggesting that wise people can learn a lot from a small amount of information. Although as a melody title it is found only here,4 the melodically unrelated qin song Old Autumn Wind has a similar idea: its lyrics include the line, "Now in the courtyard (autumn) is announced by the falling of a single leaf."

Although the expression "Yi ye zhi qiu" is quite well known, its precise origin is not clear. The afterword in Xilutang Qintong says that the title comes from a phrase in the Biographies of Exemplary Immortals (Lie Xian Zhuan), but it does not specify which biography and I have not yet found such a reference in the original text of the Liexian Zhuan.5

In fact, none of my dictionaries connects this expression with Lie Xian Zhuan, instead suggesting that the earliest known source of this concept was Huainanzi. There, as here, the actual expression used in the commentary, though it has the same basic meaning, is somewhat different: "By seeing one leaf fall, you can know that the year will soon end". Other related versions can be found in many places in Chinese writings.6

Regarding the actual music, I have reconstructed this melody but not yet recorded it. However, on YouTube one can currently (2016) find recordings by 李佳蓁 (Li Jiaqin?) in Tainan of her (?) reconstruction of this melody.

Original Afterword 7

The Lie Xian Zhuan says, "From a single leaf falling one can know that it is autumn everywhere." The intentions of this melody draw on this. Its sounds are like the sudden resonance of whirling winds (pinwheels?), (and) cold sounds from a golden well. It is very musical.

Music (Timings follow my recording 聽錄音)
8 sections, titled8
(Apology: some translations here are guesses)

(As a prelude listen to/sing Old Autumn Wind)

00.00   1.   Mournful autumn winds respond to the season
00.48   2.   (Harmonics) Myriad leaves are restive in their branches
01.17   3.   Solitary dreaming by an elegant lattice window
02.00   4.   A guest pillow, the sorrow of separation
02.43   5.   Cool moon fills the empty (sky)
03.59   6.   ("Sounds of leaves falling") Clear frost quilts the wilderness (harmonic passage in middle, after which "gradually slow")
04.54   7.   ("Sounds of leaves falling"; in harmonics) Ardent lyrics by the Fen river9
05.32   8.   The Chu official increasingly sighs10
06.12         Closing harmonics
06.34         End

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Knowing Autumn from a Single Leaf (一葉知秋 Yi Ye Zhi Qiu) (III/123)
1.2815 gives as its earliest reference the phrase 見一葉落而知歲之將暮 (Seeing the fall of a single leaf and thus knowing the year will soon end) from the chapter A Mountain of Persuasions, in Huainanzi (淮南子,說山順 Huainanzi, Shuo Shan Shun; online in the China Text Project). The full passage is translated in Major, et. al., 16.133, as follows,

By tasting one piece of meat, you can know the flavor of a potful.
By suspending feathers and charcoal [in a balance beam], you can know the humidity of the air.
One uses the small to illuminate the large. By seeing one leaf fall, you can know that the year will soon end;
By noticing ice in a jug, you can know the temperature throughout the world.
One uses the near to assess the far."

1.2815 then goes on to quote 文録 Wen Lü (by the northern Song poet 唐庚 Tang Geng [唐子西 Tang Zixi, 1070–1120]) as having stated that an anonymous Tang dynasty poet once wrote,

山僧不解數甲子 A mountain monk cannot explain the number cycles,
一葉落知天下秋 (But) from a single leaf falling he knows all under heaven is autumn".

1/81 is similar to 1.2815, and neither gives an ancient quote using the precise phrase "一葉知秋". In addition, I have not yet found the reference in the original text of either Lie Xian Zhuan (Biographies of Exemplary Immortals) or its later edition, Liexian Quanzhuan (although so far the only online edition I have seen of the latter is not searchable).

2. Shang mode (商調 shang diao)
Shang mode melodies often had sad themes, and perhaps for this reason a number of melodies having an Autumn theme use shang mode. Here the mode is largely do so, but it quite often switches to la mi; there is also the occasional flatted mi. For further information on characteristics of shang mode melodies see Shenpin Shang Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Meridel Rubenstein: Green Rust Spotted Maple No.5
2010/11; Vegetable ink on Canson BFK Reeves watercolor paper

(See also a bamboo inscription by 倪小舟 Ni Xiaozhou.)

4. Tracing Yi Ye Zhi Qiu
Zha Guide 19/183/--

5. Liexian Zhuan references
I have not yet found a digital copy of Liexian Quanzhuan so this information may be incorrect.

6. Single Leaf Falling
Similar references are in the lyrics to Gu Qiu Feng and Qiu Feng Ci.

Related also are poems such as 早秋 Early Autumn by 許渾 Xu Hun (d. 858):

7. Afterword
The original Chinese afterword is:

8. Section Titles
The original Chinese section titles (some poetic references added) are:

1.   商飈應候
2.   萬葉驚條
3.   綺窗孤夢
4.   客枕離憂
5.   涼月滿空 (in 劉基,上清詞三首其三:河漢水,九秋清,涼月滿空聞雁聲。雁聲不到夢先到,白露濕衣天未明。)
6.  (落葉聲) 清霜被野 (in 張宇初 [1359-1410],題董北苑秋江待渡圖歌為汪大椿賦)
7.  (落葉聲) 汾水厲辭
8.   楚臣增慨

9. Ardent lyrics by the Fen river (汾水厲辭 Fenshui Li Ci)
3094.xxx 厲辭 Li Ci. "Ci" could also mean "parting"; other meanings for "li" include "harsh", "urgent", "cross a stream fully clothed, etc.

The Fen River (17597; 汾河/汾水) flows from northern to southern 山西 Shanxi province. One of the sets of Autumn Wind Lyrics attributed to the Han emperor Wudi mentions the Fen River. And Yuan Haowen wrote a poem about a goose being trapped and killed at the Fen River; its mate, unable to bear the separation, then dashed itself on the rocks.

As yet I have no specific information as to what might have been the intended allusion here; sometimes multiple interpretations are possible.

10. The Chu official increasingly sighs (楚臣增慨 Chu chen zeng kai)
Chu chen: 楚臣 15473.xxx; "chen" can refer to a high official but also low level ones or even slaves. The old state of Chu was south of what is now Shanxi province; it is often thought to be centered on what is now Hunan province. Song Yu of Chu mourned autumn, but he is not usually thought of as an official; Qu Yuan was an official in Chu, but to my knowledge is not particularly connected to autumn. In sum, I do not yet know to what the intended allusion is here.

Return to the annotated handbook list or to the Guqin ToC.