Chapter 22 – Poetry makes a nation strong, a paper worth a hundred catties

After a while, Fang Da Niu outside the door said, “We’re out of the city.”


After a while longer, Fang Da Niu said, “We’re about to cross the Ji River. There are many people waiting at the pavilion of the post station. I don’t know who they’re waiting for.”

Fang Yun lifted the door curtain and saw the Ji River Bridge made of stone slabs ahead, and beyond that was the Ji County post station, which was originally responsible for delivering official letters and providing lodging and horses for officials on their travels. However, with the flourishing of the talent system, the imperial documents were directly transmitted through the “Hongyan Chuanshu” of the Imperial Academy, which could reach their destination instantly. The post station was no longer responsible for delivering official documents, but instead for sending private letters.

Using the “Hongyan Chuanshu” for non-official or official private letters was very expensive, costing one or two taels of silver in the same state, ten taels of silver in the same nation, and a hundred taels of silver for cross-nation delivery.

Fang Yun was surprised to see that important figures in Ji County, such as County Magistrate Cai, Lord Wang, and Su, the presented scholar, were all there. The Savage Cow behind County Magistrate Cai was over seven feet tall and particularly eye-catching.

At first, Fang Yun thought they were welcoming some high-ranking official, but he realized they were there to send him off when someone waved at him. He felt a warm feeling in his heart and immediately jumped off the carriage, walking towards the pavilion of the post station with the others.

The sun had not yet risen, and frost hung in many places. It was chilly in the spring, so Fang Yun did not let Yang Yuhuan get off the carriage.

When he reached the crowd, Fang Yun bowed and said, “Fang Yun is honored to be treated so kindly by you all.”

Su, the presented scholar, said, “You are mistaken. You are like a young phoenix just beginning to sing. You will soar into the sky in the future, and it is our honor to send you off. You are ‘Ji County Fang Yun,’ and we are also from Ji County. It is only right that we send you off. By the way, will you marry my daughter or granddaughter?”

Everyone laughed. It was already known in the city that Su, the presented scholar, had failed to marry off his daughter or granddaughter, and when they heard that Fang Yun had not abandoned Yang Yuhuan, the evaluation of Fang Yun by the scholars in Ji County increased.

County Magistrate Cai handed three letters to Fang Yun and said, “I am from the same hometown as Sun Prefectural Governor, Zhang Sizheng of the State Criminal Investigation Department, and Zhou Zhubu of the State Academy. Since you are going to Dayuan Prefecture, please deliver these three letters for me.”

Sun Prefectural Governor was the highest civilian official in Dayuan Prefecture, with a rank of fifth grade, while Zhang Sizheng of the State Criminal Investigation Department was in charge of arresting and imprisoning criminals in a province and was a fourth-grade official. Zhou Zhubu of the State Academy was a sixth-grade official, and his rank was higher than that of County Magistrate Cai.

Fang Yun knew that County Magistrate Cai was paving the way for him, allowing him to meet three high-ranking officials with these three letters. If something happened to him in Dayuan Prefecture in the future, these three officials would definitely help him for the sake of County Magistrate Cai’s face.

“It seems that those three people are all leaders of the Wenxian system. The leader of the Wenxian system is the leader of the Imperial Academy system, but he must also have civil servants under him. Although the Left Chancellor Liu Shan is only the head of the civil servants, his students and old friends are also in the military and the Imperial Academy.”

Fang Yun thought to himself as he accepted the three letters and thanked County Magistrate Cai.

The head of another influential family in the county, Wu Zu Zhang, handed him a small red cloth bag and said, “This is ten taels of silver. I wish you a smooth journey.”

Then, some people also gave him money, and Fang Yun thanked them one by one.

It only took four hours by carriage from Ji County to Dayuan Prefecture, but these people gave him over a hundred taels of silver. Many people gave more than when they congratulated Fang Yun on becoming a Child Scholar, which showed that Fang Yun’s status in their hearts was constantly rising.

The group chatted about some information about Dayuan Prefecture and gave some helpful advice to Fang Yun. When the sun was about to rise, someone suggested that Fang Yun should leave quickly and not delay his journey.

Lord Wang, however, said, “We don’t know when we’ll see each other again after today. Fang Yun, why don’t you compose a poem or lyric here? It won’t be in vain for us to come all this way.”

Fang Yun smiled and said, “It seems that Lord Wang is not here to send me off, but to test me. You are truly diligent in your duties. How about I take the exam next year?”

“No! Today’s task must be completed today!” Lord Wang’s words elicited a kind laughter from the crowd.Many people looked at Fang Yun curiously. Fang Yun’s talent and poetry had already spread throughout Ji County. They didn’t know what kind of poem he would produce today.

“Fellow students, give me a moment.”

Fang Yun said, looking around.

The crowd became even more curious. Fang Yun was obviously preparing to use his surroundings as inspiration. If he could write a good poem, it would truly be a “poem in seven steps.”

Fang Yun slowly observed his surroundings. There was a post station nearby, a thatched cottage not far away, and a rooster crowing. The moon in the sky was getting fainter.

Leaves fell on the mountain road in the distance, and an unknown flower bloomed on the wall of the post station. Because he had to leave Ji County, he became even more attached to it.

“Does anyone have writing materials?”

Suddenly, the people by the pavilion laughed and stood aside, making way for Fang Yun to the middle of the stone table in the pavilion.

On the stone table were brushes, ink, paper, and inkstones. Everything was there, even the ink had been ground.

Fang Yun smiled bitterly and walked over. He picked up the brush, thought for a moment, and dipped it in the ink. He wrote in the “willow style” while reciting the words.

“Setting out at dawn with the sound of bells, traveling as a guest, I mourn for my hometown.”

After finishing writing, he did not immediately put down the brush. It seemed like he was contemplating.

The crowd nodded. Some people looked at the bell on the horse’s neck.

Fang Yun continued to write while reciting, “The rooster crows at the thatched cottage under the moon, the frost on the board bridge marks the path of men.”

Many people were impressed. Fang Yun seemed to be painting a picture rather than writing a poem.

Then, Fang Yun finished writing the last few lines, forming a five-character regulated poem.

“Setting out at dawn with the sound of bells, traveling as a guest, I mourn for my hometown. The rooster crows at the thatched cottage under the moon, the frost on the board bridge marks the path of men. Leaves fall on the mountain road, and the flowering orange brightens the walls of the post station. Because of my dream of Ji Ling, wild ducks and geese fill the pond.”

Finally, Fang Yun wrote “Early Departure from Ji County” on top of it.

The county magistrate of Cai frowned and walked to Fang Yun’s side, staring at the poem for a long time without saying a word.

Wang Yuanjun nodded and praised, “This poem probably has the talent of Mingsheng in Bingzhou. The poem is sincere in meaning and moving in scene. It first describes the poet’s journey, then the scenery along the way, and finally the yearning for the landscape of Ji County in dreams. Wild ducks and geese float in the pond, like travelers returning home. It is rare, very rare.”

Su the presented scholar said, “The symmetry of this poem is extremely neat, and the language is beautiful. It is the most wonderful travel poem I have ever seen.”

Everyone nodded. There were farewell poems, borderland poems, and travel poems among literary people, but this “Early Departure from Ji County” was outstanding.

“The line ‘The rooster crows at the thatched cottage under the moon, the frost on the board bridge marks the path of men’ is particularly wonderful. The six images of the rooster, the thatched cottage, the moon, the path of men, the board bridge, and the frost are arranged perfectly and flawlessly. The most rare thing is the sonorous rhyming sound, which is like a clear spring entering the throat.” said a talented scholar.

“Columned embroidery” is a rhetorical device in which the entire sentence is made up of nouns or noun phrases cleverly arranged. The most famous and best image is “The withered vines and old trees crows of ravens, the small bridge flows with water in front of the peasant’s house, and the ancient road is accompanied by the west wind and a thin horse.” However, in terms of “absolute,” it is not as good as this “Early Departure from Ji County.”

This poem is a masterpiece of the famous Tang Dynasty poet and lyricist Wen Tingyun. Although Wen Tingyun and Li Shangyin were both known as “Li Wen,” he was only better than Li Shangyin in ci poetry, and his poetry was not as good as Li Shangyin’s. The only poem that could compete with Li Shangyin is this “Early Departure from Ji County,” which is a masterpiece of ancient and modern “absolute” poetry.

The penultimate sentence was originally “Because of my dream of Du Ling,” but it obviously did not fit here, so Fang Yun changed “Du” to “Ji.” Both words are oblique tones and do not affect the rhythm and imagery of the poem.

Everyone discussed it, while Fang Yun remained silent.County Magistrate Cai suddenly exclaimed, “Well, Fang Shuangjia, I knew it! You’ve been silent after finishing writing, and it turns out you were testing us! Everyone, you underestimated this poem. This is not just a poem from Mingzhou, it is a poem of ‘Zhenguo’!”

Fang Yun couldn’t help but smile. He thought that County Magistrate Cai was indeed an imperial scholar, and he had quickly discovered the beauty of this poem.

“County Lord, are you exaggerating?” Wang Yuanjun was shocked. From the current perspective, it would be difficult for this poem to reach the level of ‘Zhenguo,’ because poems at the level of ‘Zhenguo’ and higher have extremely outstanding performances in some aspects, such as deep emotions, grandeur, sharp words, gorgeousness, uniqueness, and so on.

County Magistrate Cai smiled and asked, “Didn’t you see that this is an extraordinary poem?”

An extraordinary poem is not a quatrain, but refers to a poem that is rare and hard to come by in some aspects, and it is difficult to have the same one appear again.


The crowd discussed one after another, completely unable to see where this poem was ‘extraordinary.’ After all, an extraordinary poem is too rare, and many great scholars cannot produce one in their entire lives. Poems at that level are difficult to come by.

County Magistrate Cai said word by word, “Rooster, sound, thatched, cottage, moon, person, trace, plank, bridge, frost! It can be said that every word is like a brocade, unprecedented, how can it not be extraordinary!”

Many people’s faces changed, and they rushed to the stone table to take a closer look, even squeezing Fang Yun away.

County Magistrate Cai cleverly grabbed the stone table, otherwise he would also be squeezed away.

“It is indeed a brocade of words. This poem is unprecedented, unique for generations, stunningly talented! Stunningly talented!” Su Presented Scholar shouted loudly, excited with a red face. Those who did not know thought he had made a good poem.

Wang Yuanjun’s excited mouth trembled, “Could it be that the sage favored me and my fortune has turned? I actually have the opportunity to witness the birth of a poem of ‘Zhenguo’?”

Several older talented scholars were also obsessed, their expressions more fanatical than a flower thief who had been banned for twenty years suddenly seeing a naked beauty.

“To see a poem of ‘Zhenguo’ is to die without regret, to die without regret!”

“A rare genius of the world, a rare genius of the world!”

A group of scholars cried out like madmen.

Wang Yuanjun couldn’t help but reach out to take a closer look at the poem, but he couldn’t even lift the paper with one hand.

“This…” Wang Yuanjun had to use more force, and then he held it up with both hands, obviously exerting a lot of effort, like holding a big stone.

“This page weighs a hundred catties. It is indeed a poem of ‘Zhenguo,’ no mistake!” Wang Yuanjun sighed.

This paper was not large and very thin, but it was extremely heavy, and many people saw it for the first time and were extremely shocked.

“Why isn’t the ink fading? Isn’t this supposed to be ink that doesn’t stick to the skin? Clearly, only talented scholars can achieve this. How can Fang Yun’s words be like this?”

“How can a child scholar in front of the sage be the same as you and me?”

“That’s right.”

“Nonsense! Even if a child scholar in front of the sage, it is impossible to practice ink that doesn’t stick to the skin in ten days. Clearly, it is what Fang Yun learned through hard work.”

“Well said.”

The crowd took turns to observe and evaluate, unconsciously the sun had risen.

The morning light shone on Fang Yun’s words, and a very light halo appeared on the surface of each word.

“These are words like pearls.” Su Presented Scholar praised.

County Magistrate Cai’s expression was sometimes bright and sometimes dark, frowning, and no one knew what he was thinking.

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