An Elegiac Address to the Twelfth Nephew
Day, month, year. I, your youngest uncle, Han Yu, overwhelmed with grief, sent Jianzhong on my behalf to offer you sacrifices to express my deep feelings for you, seven days after I heard about your death. Jianzhong had bought seasonal delicacies from a distant place as sacrificial offerings to your departed soul.
Alas! I lost my father during my early childhood. When I grew up, I did not know what my father was like. I was dependent on my eldest brother and his wife. My eldest brother, your father, was middle-aged when he died in the south, and together we accompanied his widow to bury him in Heyang. Then you and I went to the south to make a living. We two were orphaned and helpless and clung to each other’s company every day. I had three brothers older than I, but unfortunately they all died early. In our family, you and I were the only descendants, you being of the third generation and I of the second generation. Of those two generations, each had only one successor remaining. We two were extremely lonely, with only our shadows left to us. My sister-in-law used to fondle you while pointing her finger at me, saying, “You two are the only survivors of the Han family.” You were only an infant and could not understand her. And although I was able to recall what she said, I did not recognize the sadness in her words.
When I was nineteen, I went to the capital. Four years later I came home to visit you. Another four years passed. I went to Heyang to visit the graves of our ancestors, and met you there where you had the coffin of your mother interred. Two years later, you came to see me in Bianzhou as I was working for Chengxiang Dong. You stayed for a year, and then went home, intending to bring your family over. But in the following year Chengxiang Dong died and I left Bianzhou before you could come back. That year I took office in Xuzhou , working as an official in charge of military supply. When the man I sent to fetch you had just set out, I left my post (11). Again you did not come. I thought even if you had come to the east , you would not have stayed long, for, after all, the east was not our native place. As a long-term plan I had better return to the west , establish myself and welcome you into my household. Alas! Who could have thought that you would suddenly die and leave me behind?
You and I were both young and I believed that although we might part for a brief period of time, we would eventually live together for a long time. Therefore, I left you and took up my residence in the capital to earn an official’s meager salary. Had I known what would happen, I would not have left you for a single day, even if I were appointed to the highest office with ten thousand carriages at my command.
Last year, when Meng Dongye went south, I asked him to bring a letter to you in which I wrote, “I am barely forty years old, but my eyesight is falling, my hair is graying and my teeth are loose. My uncles and brothers were all physically strong, but they all died in the prime of life. Delicate as I am, how can I live long? I cannot leave my post and you will not be coming. I might die at any moment, and you would be brought to eternal grief.” Who can explain why the younger one dies whereas the elder one lives on, and why the healthy one succumbs early whereas the fragile one survives?
Alas! Was the news true? Or was it a hallucination? Or was it mere misinformation? If it was true, then why is it that my brother, who was a man of virtue, should have his son die young? Why couldn’t his innocent and brilliant son be blessed by his goodness? Was it fair that the frail, elderly man should outlive the vigorous youth? I could not believe it was true. It was a hallucination, or a rumor. Then why is it that Dongye’s letter and Genglan’s obituary notice are at hand here? Alas! Then the news must be true. A virtuous man like my eldest brother had the life of his son taken away at an early age. An innocent and brilliant man like you, who should have carried on the family line, could not enjoy the blessings of his father. How unpredictable is Heaven’s will! And how unfathomable is God’s disposition! That is why the logic of things can never be reasoned out, and the continuation of one’s existence cannot be foretold.
Nevertheless, since the beginning of this year, my gray hair has faded to white, and my loose teeth have decayed or fallen off. I am growing weaker and weaker and my vigor is waning. It won’t be long before I follow you and die. If you should have consciousness after death, then our separation won’t be long. If not, my grief will not last long either; eternity will follow in which I will be oblivious of grief.
Your son is just ten years old and my son is five. There exists no guarantee that these young and healthy ones will live long. How can we expect them to grow up to fulfill their careers? Alas! Alas!
Last year you wrote to me, saying, “I am suffering from numbness in the feet and sometimes it is growing worse.” I replied, “Many people in the south suffer from that kind of illness.” It did not cause me much anxiety. Did you eventually die of it? Or was it some other illness?
I received your letter which was written on June the seventeenth. Dongye said that you died on June the second. The obituary notice Genglan brought me gave no date of your death, but it was very likely that Dongye’s messenger did not even ask your family about the date of your death. Genglan should know that an obituary notice should mention the date of death. How could he fail to mention yours? Perhaps when Dongye was writing the letter to me, he asked the messenger about the date, and the messenger mentioned a date at random. Was this guess true? Or not?
Now I am sending Jianzhong to offer you sacrifices and pay condolences to your children and your wet nurse. If they do not lack for food, they will remain beside you till the days of mourning have passed. Then I will welcome them to my place. If they cannot do so, I will have them brought me without delay, and let the remaining servants carry on mourning until the end. If I can, I will move your coffin back home and re-inter you in the ancestral burial grounds in order to fulfill my lifelong wish.
Alas! I did not know when you were ill. Nor did I know the date of your death. When you were alive, I did not live with you to support you. When you were dead, I did not mourn over your remains to give vent to my bitter grief. When you were lying in the coffin, I did not follow the funeral procession. When you were interred, I did not come to your grave. I fear I am the cause of your untimely death as I have failed to live up to the expectations of the gods. I am neither kind nor filial. I did not live together with you to take care of you, nor die in your company. Now you are in the remotest edge of the heaven while I am in the remotest corner of the earth. When you were living, we were not always together as body and shadow, and now that you are dead, your soul does not meet me in my dream. It was all my own doing. When will my grief come to an end? I have no wish to live on, and will buy several hundred mu of land by the Yi and the Ying rivers upon which to spend the rest of my life. I will educate my son and your son, hoping they will grow up to be men and I will bring up my daughter and your daughter and marry them off. Then can my wish be fulfilled.
Ah! My words have expired, but my grief has no end. Do you know or don’t you know? Ah! How sorrowful I am!
May you partake of the offerings.