In Chinese the characters chih and yin in combination mean literally "to know the tone" or "the one who knows the tone or music." By extension, the term denotes 'the one who understands or appreciates another's art"; thus, "the one who understands the mind and heart of another--a true friend."

* * *

It is recorded that during the Spring and Autumn Period (722-484 B.C.) a talented musician named Yu Po-ya lived along the Yangtze River in the feudal state of Ch'u near today's Wuhan, the capital of Hupeh Province. One afternoon a woodcutter named Chung Tzu-ch'i passed by Po-ya's house and heard him playing the five-string zither. The music so moved Tzu-ch'i that he became Po-ya's chih-yin on the spot.

Lieh tzu, a Taoist classic attributed to Lieh Yu-ku of the Late Chou Dynasty, relates that while Yu Po-ya was an excellent zither player, Chung Tzu-ch'i was also a good listener. "When Po-ya would play, if his thoughts were on the high mountains, Tzu-ch'i would exclaim, 'Yes! Good! Towering and majestic like Mount T'ai!' If his thoughts were on flowing waters, Tzu-ch'i would exclaim, 'Yes! Good! Vast like the Yangtze or the Yellow River!' Whatever Yu Po-ya had in his mind and heart, Chung Tzu-ch'i was sure to intuit it."

The spring and Autumn Annals of Mr. Lu, a summary of late Chou Dynasty philosophy commissioned in early 200 B.C., adds that when Chung Tzu-ch'i died, Yu Po-ya smashed his zither and broke the strings. He never again played because he believed that there was no one worth playing for.

In the first book of Chinese literary criticism, The Literary Mind and the Carvinq of Dragons by Liu Hsieh, a chapter titled Chih-yin begins: "To know the tone is hard! The tone is truly hard to know. To meet someone who understands it is [also) very hard. You meet a chih-yin once every thousand years and then for only a moment!"

* * *

This volume is a selection of ancient and modern poems from the Far East and American West that set forth, or touch on, elements of the chih-yin theme.

Mike O'Connor | Farewell
Contents | Mudlark No. 7