While enjoying a perfect autumn day, one that the Chinese describe as 秋高气爽 (qiūgāoqìshuǎng), with the sky clear and high, and the air cool and refreshing, I think of a song called 秋蝉 (Qiū Chán Autumn Cicada.).
As mentioned in a lesson posted last fall, the word 禅 (chán Zen) sounds exactly the same as 蝉 (chán cicadas). The cicadas are also called 知了 (zhīliǎo). I still remember hearing them sing in unison in the countryside, their loud chorus reverberating with the waves of the summer heat.
The song, 秋蝉 (Qiū Chán Autumn Cicada.), was composed by 李子恒 (Lǐ Zǐhéng) while attending an apparently boring military education lecture in Taiwan. Later he made a few demo tapes for his girlfriend. Without telling him, his girl friend submitted one of the demo tapes to a major music contest in Taiwan. The song won the 1980 award for that competition and paved the way for Mr. Lee’s long and successful song-writing career.
At this link is a nice video of the song with the subtitles in traditional Chinese characters.
Click on this link to hear the song sung by a female performer. At that site the lyrics are provided in simplified Chinese characters.
The song is written in the first person, which is the cicada. The wording tends to be literary rather than conversational. The beautiful imagery of the autumn scenes float along with the soft, lilting melody.
听我 (tīng wǒ) means to listen to me saying or singing something. 看我 (kàn wǒ) means to watch me doing something.
Tīng wǒ jiǎng gè yǒuqù de gùshi.
Hear me recount an interesting story.
Kàn wǒ lái zhěng tā.
Wait and see me give him a hard time.
春水 (chūn shuǐ) is water in the spring. 叫 (jiào) is to call. 寒 (hán) means cold.
Chūntiān nuǎnhuo, dōngtián hánlěng.
It’s warm in the spring and cold in the winter.
绿叶 (lǜyè) are green leaves. 催 (cuī) is to urge. 黄 (huáng) is yellow.
In the first two lines, the cicada tells you that its calls has cooled the water that was temperate in spring and urged the green leaves to turn yellow.
谁道 (shéi dào) is a literary way of saying 谁说 (shéi shuō), which means “Who is saying?”. 愁 (chóu) means to worry or to feel depressed.
烟波 (yānbō) are mist-covered waters and 林野 (lín yě) are woods in open country. 意 (yì) refers to meanings, ideas, intentions or feelings. 幽幽 (yōuyōu) refers to distant, faint light or sound.
花 (huā) are flowers. 落 (luò) is to fall down and 红 (hóng) means red. 枫 (fēng) are maple trees. 花落红 (huā luò hóng) and 红了枫 (hóng liǎo fēng) are words put together to paint a picture and to sound good, but are not regularly used phrases. In the second phrase, 红 (hóng) is used as a verb in the sense of coloring the maple leaves red.
Qiūtiān bǎ fēng yè rǎn hóng le.
Autumn has dyed the maple leaves red.
展翅 (zhǎnchì) means to spread the wings. 任 (rèn), in this case, means to give free rein to. 翔 (xiáng) or 飞翔 (fēixiáng) means to fly. 双 (shuāng) is a pair. 羽 (yǔ) are wings. They belong to the wild geese, or 雁 (yàn).
Then the cicada refers to his own flimsy wings as 薄衣 (báo yī), or thin clothing. When pronounced as 薄 (bó), this word means ungenerous or meager. Many people in Taiwan only use the latter pronunciation regardless of the intended meaning. This is reflected in both of the videos mentioned above.
过 (guò) here means to pass or to go through. In 残冬 (cán dōng the last days of winter), the 残 (cán) is interpreted as 残留 (cánliú remaining).
总归是 (zǒngguī shì) means “after all it is”. 夏 (xià) means summer. 走 (zǒu) and 去 (qù) both refer to the seasons’ passing or leaving. 浓 (nóng) means dense, concentrated or intense.
美景 (měijǐng) is beautiful scenery. When autumn passes, the beautiful scenery will be no more, i.e. 不再 (bùzài be no longer). There is a typographic error in the simplified Chinese lyrics. It should read 秋去冬来 (qiū qù dōng lái Autumn leaves and winter arrives.) instead of 春去冬来 (chūn qù dōng lái Spring leaves and winter arrives.). What the singer sang is correct.
忙 means to be busy, while 急忙 (jímáng) or 匆忙 (cōngmáng), or 匆匆 (cōngmáng) means hastily, or hurriedly.
莫教 (mò jiào) means “don’t let”. 逝 (shì) is to pass away or to die. It’s wishful thinking not to let the nice spring days slip away.
And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, here is the cicada himself in the spot light.