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The Ballad in Bagua (Or Eight Trigrams): A Mini Epic* by Yuan Changming

qua a: The Creative

hush! did you ever hear

in the very vastest void

a voice almost invisible

awakening Pan Gu

the great father of life

who had arisen

slowly but steadily

amidst all nothingness?

with his hands like a huge ax

Pan Gu clove the chaos into yin and yang

one floating high above

clear and clean

until it formed the heavens

the other sinking deep down

turbid and turbulent

until it solidified into the earth

even bigger than the entire universe

his mind in itself can create

a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven

just as his first manifesto

still echoes from soul to soul:

there is neither god, nor heaven

i am god and i am heaven

let there be a lightway, and here i come!

gua b: The Lake

soon after Pan Gu

there were more than

exploded as though

triggering a super-

whose tremendous

along the ever

that created cracks

across the boundless

put the universe in order

one thousand thunders

in a single big blast

scaled skyquake

tremors traveled

darkening lightning

and crevices

vault of the heavens

her newborns striving hard but hopeless to survive

the flood, the drought as well as the famine

Nuwa, the gracious mother of the human race

to whom power had been an eternal joy

ceased changing her forms and shapes

starting to rescue her young children

from the danger of being swallowed by death

without getting a chance to grow on their own

day in and day out

not knowing what was tiring

she filled, smoothed and ironed

every gap that needed to be treated

with the soft five-colored stones

she had defined and refined

in her first alchemist’s furnace

until the whole firmament was fully mended

gua c: The Clinging

in the south dominates Yan Di the Great

in the north rules Huang Di the Mighty

they are both Nuwa’s worthy offspring

but they never brother each other

followed by deities and humans alike

they fight fiercely and formidably

for women, for wealth or for war’s sake

the biggest battle

metal scales agape

chain mail glitters

banners fluttering

as thick and dark clouds

the whole city seems

even night is so much

it hides itself in

breaks out in Banchuan

with burning cold

over death’s shadows

against loud cries

keep whelming

ready to collapse

scared to death

or too exhausted to return to the heavens

gua d: The Thunder

to revenge on his captain’s

Chi You stages

by summoning

retrieving every rain

and enrolling each

like thousands of

stampeding at

against the defence

shame of defeat

an all-front or total war

every wind above earth

under the sky

fighter of ferocity

wild mammoths of horror

an unheard thunder

line of Huang Di

to meet Chi’s challenge

Yin Long his most valiant

who never holds a weapon

but on the wall of

hangs a sword that

readily leap forward

to cut off the head

even it is more than

Huang Di dispatches

and capable general

in his handsome hands

his courageous mind

can break from its case

like a flying dragon

of an arch-enemy

one hundred zhang away

seeing Yin Long’s legions fail to curb

the sweeping storms manipulated by Chi You

Ba the most talented and beautiful princess

offers to join in the half-fought battle

by stilling each violent wind and rain

to help destroy the most destructive forces

despite the puzzled eye of those who see her:

who is among us this extraordinary fair warrior?

gua e: The Receptive

the greatest

was not born

but wherever

there will be

this is

although it never has

like the law formulated

there is an equal

rebel of all time

to be a rebel

there is oppression

a timely rebellion

a universal truth

been hand-written

for every action

opposite reaction

the door for dogs and pigs

while the gate for humans

a loud voice is calling

come out, come out,

Xin Tian fondly

but he knows it

how can a human body

out of the desperate door

is widely open

is tightly closed

outside the prison

i will give you freedom

desires freedom

all too well

crawl his way

for animals?

his mind can

nor can his will

Xin Tian has

but the moment

he restarts to wave

his brave axe

trying to see

and roaring

never be enslaved

be walled

to be beheaded

his head is chopped off

with wonders

and unbending shield

with his nipples

with his naval instead

gua f: The Mountain

just like any other normal bird

Jing Wei has a beak sharp and hard

with which to peck around on the ground

and pursue her dream dropped while flying

she has a pair of wings of heavenly hope

plumed with feathers of despair

that empower her to fly long distance

and low enough to her father’s kingdom

but unlike any other

her calls and songs

who used

along a less trodden trail

until on a hot and

she ventured to swim

without a companion

and never returned

bird on earth

are her own name

to take a lonely walk

in the woods

humid summer day

in the East Sea

in her private quest

to the palace of Yan Di

ever since the rebirth

of the foamy peak

Jing Wei has been

in filling the vast

with fresh twigs

she collects and transports

one at a time

although it seems

she secured

of a huge wave

fully engaged

and violent sea

and stones

from Mount West

with her lonely beak

simple but impossible

gua g: The Dangerous

out of nowhere

torrents of rain

lakes overturn

mountains collapse

as young and old fight

humans and animals duel

the whole world seems

to perish

out of everywhere

all fall together

and rivers overflow

in muddy nightmares

against hunger

with plagues

to be doomed

in a single fierce flood

to tame the rivers and watercourses

Guen steals a seed of xi soil from heaven

but long before he can accomplish his task

Guen is killed at Tian Di’s heavenly order

and his body thrown in the wildness

where it refuses to decay for three years

until a yellow dragon is begotten

leaping out of his belly cut widely open

Yu quickly grows

for he never forgets

even though he has

nor any help

he gulps down

sucks up

chains every stream

to free the land

to be Guen’s great son

his father’s behest

no magic xi soil

from high above heaven

all the dark clouds

all the torrential rains

running mad

from the flood’s grips

gua h: The Wind

far beyond the vast east sea

Xi He gives birth to ten suns

playing happily in the heavens

like so many wantons who never stop

chasing one another unawares

their faces getting dirtier and dirtier

until summoned by their dear mother

bathing them in the depths of Sweet Pond

at an unseen moment of glaring sot

all the ten sons seem to turn wild

like mad fires sending out more heat than light

burning every green leaf in the field

when Hou Yi has to hold high

his red bow and white arrows

and shoot down the suns up to nine

leaving just one as Xi He’s only son

no one is sure

who never ceases

in an endless

from his comfort home

to the Yellow River flowing

whose water fails

to the wasteland

where he means

what Kua Fu is up to

seeking the traveling sun

and tireless chase

near the Wei River

down from heaven

to quench his thirst

beyond the North Sea

to stand to fall forever


Yuan Changming hails with Allen Yuan from Credits include Pushcart nominations and publications in Best of the Best Canadian Poetry (2008-17) & Best New Poems Online, among others. In 2021, Yuan served on the jury for Canada's 44th National Magazine Awards (poetry category).

Author's note

*As many literary scholars have noted, Chinese literature has no epic in the western sense of the term. Considering this fact, my "Ballad in Bagua: A Mini Epic" is not only highly experimental in form (I used the most ancient Chinese folk-mythic form of "bagua" or eight trigrams with a slight modification), but also very ambitious in content, for I tried to write the most ancient Chinese myths into an integrated poetic narrative.

To my best knowledge, this is the very first attempt in any language, since no poet has ever done so even in the Chinese language. In English and even in Chinese, this 200-line "mini epic" is the first integrated representation of the most ancient Chinese mythology in the most ancient Chinese folk-mythic form of bagua (or eight trigrams) and, as such, it is obviously a highly ambitious and experimental poem. In fact, I have been trying to re-write all the unique or most "representative" Chinese cultural myths and traditions into English poetry, with "Ballad in Bagua" invented as a sub-genre of poetry.