THE LAND OF BLISS
THE FAIRY’S PORTRAIT
THE LAND OF BLISS
Over five centuries ago, during the reign of King Tran Thuan Tong, there lived a young mandarin named Tu Thuc, who was chief of the Tien Du district. He was a very learned man and possessed many precious books. In these he could find all the knowledge of the world except the location of the Land of Bliss, and this was what he longed to know.
As a small boy Tu Thuc had been told that the Chinese Emperor Duong Minh Hoang had by chance discovered the Land of Bliss one night when the August moon was full. There he had found women with wonderful peach-blossom complexions wearing rainbow-colored dresses with long, flaring sleeves. It was land of eternal youth and pleasure, and one's time was spent in laughter, music, and dancing. The emperor learned the wonderful "Khuc Nghe Thuong" dance from the fairies themselves. On his return to earth he taught this dance to the ladies of the imperial palace, who would then dance for him in the silver moonlight as he sipped his perfumed wine.
From his boyhood Tu Thuc had dreamed of the Land of Bliss, and his greatest ambition was to visit this remarkable land.
One day Tu Thuc passed an old pagoda, which was renowned for its glorious peonies. It was during the Flower Festival of the year Binh Ti, and the red peonies were in full bloom. It happened that a young maiden of radiant beauty and sweet countenance had lowered a branch to admire the blossoms, and as she did so it broke off in her hand. The priests of the pagoda arrested her and imposed a fine, which she was unable to pay. Tu Thuc had observed these proceedings, and although he had insufficient money to pay the fine, he generously offered his brocade coat in exchange for the maiden's freedom. This offer was accepted and Tu Thuc was praised by everyone in the district when his kind gesture became known.
Some years later, tired of the "circle of honors and worldly interests," Tu Thuc resigned his office in order to be able to visit the "blue mountains and emerald-green waters." He retired to Tong-Son, a place of many beautiful springs and splendid grottoes.
One day, taking his lute, a book of poems, and a gourd of wine, he set out to wander through the great forest, where graceful boughs wove canopies from tree to tree. He crossed many streams and visited the famous Pink Mountain, the Cave of the Green Clouds, and the Lai River. As he walked he composed verses in praise of nature's wild and magic charm.
One day he awoke early in the morning and beheld five pastel clouds, which shimmered and glittered above the sea, as they unfolded into the form of lotus flowers. Enticed by this vision, he rowed towards the clouds and saw a magic mountain floating on the sea. He stepped ashore, and deeply moved by the beauty of the scenery about him, composed this verse:
A thousand reflections quiver in these lofty boughs;
The flowers of the grotto greet the arriving guest.
Near the spring, where then is the herb gatherer?
A lone boatman rows on the stream,
And his guitar sounds two notes.
The boat glides lazily, the gourd offers its wine.
Shall we ask the boatman of Vo Lang:
"Where are the peach trees of the Land of Bliss?"
Having completed the poem, Tu Thuc saw the sides of the mountain suddenly open and from the interior there came a strange, rustling sound. Was it an invitation to enter?
He entered the dark cavern and felt the mountain close behind him. For
some distance the cavern was so narrow that he was forced to crawl on his
hands and knees, but then it became lofty and wide. As he approached its
deepest point, a golden light greeted him Looking up, he saw that the rocks
above were as clear as the white clouds of the purest sky. Grasping the
jagged edges of the rocks, he began to climb.
Near the summit the air was perfumed with the scent of lilies and roses. A crystalline spring flowed at his feet, and he saw gold and silver fish swimming in its waters. The broad lotus leaves floating on the surface glistened with all the colors of the rainbow, appearing as brilliant lights. A bridge of marble led over the stream to a wonderful garden, where hidden fairies sang songs so soft and harmonious that no human voice could hope to match them.
The path, strewn with fallen petals, led to a garden with boughs shimmering with starry flowers. Wonderful birds mingled with the flowers and poured forth their melodious songs. A flock of peacocks, tail-feathers spread, stood on the green grass which was covered with iridescent petals. And all around more petals kept falling like flakes of snow. Tu Thuc felt lost in another world. But suddenly the murmur of voices returned him to reality.
From behind a lacquered gate a group of lovely maidens, dressed in blue, and with sparkling stars in their hair, came forth to meet him.
"Greetings to our handsome bridegroom," said one of them, and then they all disappeared into the palace to announce his arrival. A short while later they returned and, bowing, implored him to enter.
Tu Thuc followed the maidens into a magnificent hall with brocaded walls and heavily gilded doors. A soft and gentle melody floated in the air, and harps sounded sweetly at his approach.
A majestic lady in a snow-white silken dress was seated on a richly carved throne. She motioned him to a graceful sandalwood chair and then asked:
"Learned scholar and lover of beautiful sites, do you know what land this is?"
"It is true that I have visited many blue mountains and great forests," he answered politely, "but truly I had never hoped to see such a wonderful land. Would the Most Noble Lady tell me where I find myself?"
The lady smiled and said:
"How could a man from the world of brown dust recognize this land? You are in the sixth of the thirty-six grottoes of Phi Lai Mountain, which floats on the wide ocean and appears and vanishes according to the winds. I am the Fairy Queen of the Nam Nhac summit and my name is Nguy. I know that you have a beautiful soul and a noble heart, and I welcome you."
Then the Fairy Queen motioned to the maidens, and they ushered in a beautiful and modest young girl who had not been with them before. Tu Thuc at once recognized the young maiden he had befriended at the pagoda.
The Fairy Queen spoke again:
"This is my daughter, Giang Huong. The day she was in distress you were the only one who offered to help her. We have never forgotten your noble and generous gesture, and now I am able to show my gratitude. I offer you her hand in marriage, and henceforth my daughter's life will be bound to yours."
The wedding was celebrated that very day, and all the fairies
from the grottoes were invited. A great feast was prepared, and the nuptials
were performed with great pomp.
Then followed many pleasant days of laughter and happiness in the Land of Bliss. The weather was neither hot nor cold, for it was a land of eternal spring. The boughs in the garden were laden with flowers more beautiful than the rose, and it seemed that there was nothing more that Tu Thuc could wish for.
Still, as time passed, he began to feel nostalgia for his native village. He would often remain alone at night on the beach and gaze into the distance.
One day, looking towards the south, he saw a boat gliding on the sea. Pointing, he said to Giang Huong: "It is likely that that boat is going in the direction from which I came. I cannot hide my feelings any longer; I think constantly of my home there. Would you understand if I were to return for a while?"
Giang Huong hesitated at the idea of parting, but Tu Thuc insisted: "It is only a matter of a few weeks. Once I have seen my relatives, I promise to return."
The Fairy Queen was consulted and said: "If he wishes to return to the
world of toil and sadness, what is the good of keeping him here? His heart
is still laden with earthly memories, and his wish shall be granted."
Tu Thuc was then asked to close his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them he was back on earth.
He asked the way to his village and was told that he was already there. Yet he failed to recognize the surroundings. Instead of old friends and acquaintances, he met people he had never seen before. He inquired of the old men in the square and told them his name. None of them knew it. He left the village, convinced that it was not his own. As he was leaving he met a very old man.
"Excuse me, venerable grandfather," he said to the old man, "my name is Tu Thuc, and I am looking for my native village. Would you be kind enough to show me the way?"
"Tu Thuc? Tu Thuc?" repeated the old man as he searched his mind. "When I was a boy I was told that one of my ancestors named Tu Thuc had been chief of the Tien Du district. But he resigned his office over a hundred years ago and set off for an unknown destination and never returned. Many people said that he was borne to Heaven, but more likely he was lost in some ravine. That was near the end of the Tran dynasty, and we are now under the fourth Le king."
Tu Thuc then gave an account of his miraculous experience, and realized he had stayed in the Land of Bliss for exactly one hundred years.
"I have heard that a year on Earth is only a day in the Land of Bliss. So you are my most venerable ancestor, Tu Thuc," continued the old man, "please let me show you your old home."
And he led Tu Thuc to a deserted place, where there was nothing to be seen except a dilapidated hut, entirely beyond repair.
Tu Thuc was unhappy and disappointed. He longed to return to the Land of Bliss as rapidly as possible. All the people that he had once known on Earth had been dead for many years, and the ways and manners of the younger generations completely bewildered him.
So he set out again in the direction of the Yellow Mountains in search of the fairyland, and disappeared. But whether he found the Land of Bliss or became lost in the mountains, no one knows.
THE FAIRY’S PORTRAIT
IN THE early years of the Le dynasty, there lived in the village of
Bich Cau a young scholar named Tu Uyen. He was known far and wide, for
he came from a distinguished family of scholars and was reared in the literary
tradition. He spent his days and nights in study, and in reciting aloud
his favorite poems, intoning the words with great pleasure.
There were many fair and rich young maidens in the province who would have liked to marry Tu Uyen, but he wished to marry no one.
One day, in the middle of the Spring Festival, Tu Uyen decided to go into the open fields to enjoy the spring air and the warm sun.
It was very beautiful in the countryside; nature was luxuriant
and wonderful. The rice fields were green, trees were swaying in the gentle
air, and wild flowers peeped out from the verdant meadows.
Tu Uyen turned his face towards the sun, looked into the sky, and listened to the birds singing.
"How lovely it is when spring comes," he thought. "The sun warms me, and the gentle breeze plays over me. O how I am blessed! If only this could last forever!"
At last evening approached, and Tu Uyen turned back, retracing his steps homeward. As he passed the ornate Tien Tich pagoda, he raised his eyes and saw a maiden of surprising beauty standing near a blossoming peach tree. From her delicate figure, her beautiful dress, and her noble bearing, it was evident that she was no ordinary woman. As the moonlight played on her pale face and glistening eyes, she looked dreamy and ethereal.
Fascinated by the maiden's appearance, Tu Uyen grew bold, bowed to her politely, and said:
"Most honored lady, as night is drawing near, may your humble servant, this unworthy scholar of Bich Cau village, accompany you to your abode."
The beautiful maiden curtsied and in a graceful and courteous manner, thanked the young man for his consideration, and said she would be delighted to have him accompany her. Then they walked side by side, emulating each other in composing love songs and poems.
But when they reached the Quang Minh temple, the lady suddenly
vanished. It was only then that Tu Uyen realized that he had met a fairy.
He remained there for some time in a trance, unable to tear himself away.
When Tu Uyen reached home, he continued to think of the beautiful fairy. He supposed that she was now dwelling far away, above mountains and trees. He spoke to no one of the strange encounter, for he had fallen deeply in love. In the days that followed, he lay dreaming of her, unable to sleep during the five watches of the night and unable to eat during the six divisions of the day. He was struck with the languor of love, that mysterious illness for which there is no cure.
Silently he prayed to the gods that he might die soon, so he would be with the beautiful fairy in another world, for he was convinced that their destinies were entwined. One night a bearded old man appeared to him in a dream and told him to go to the Eastern bridge of the River To Lich, where he would find the maiden he loved.
Tu Uyen awakened and, unable to constrain his joy, ran to the Eastern bridge as dawn was breaking.
He waited for a long time but no one came. He was about to leave when he saw an old man selling pictures. Tu Uyen looked at them and discovered the portrait of a woman who looked exactly like the one he had met under the peach tree.
He bought the portrait, took it home, and hung it on the wall of his study. His heart warmed as he lovingly gazed at the picture. Then he stroked and caressed it, whispering ardent phrases of love and devotion.
During the day, he would stop his reading, put aside his books,
and admire the picture. He would get up in the middle of the night, light
a candle, take up the picture, and kiss it as if it were real. At each
meal he would place two bowls and two pairs of chopsticks on the table.
He would not serve himself until the lady of the portrait had been served,
acting as a husband would towards his wife.
One day, when he was admiring the portrait, the maiden opened her eyes, and smiled. Taken aback, Tu Uyen rubbed his eyes and stared at her. Then she grew taller and taller and stepped forth from the picture, bowing deeply.
Without raising her eyes, she spoke in a soft, musical voice and said: "Here I am, my lord. You have waited long enough for me."
"Who are you, most honored lady?" asked Tu Uyen.
"My name is Giang Kieu and I am a fairy," she replied. "Perhaps you remember our first meeting under a blossoming peach tree during the Spring Festival. There is a great source of predestined happiness in your family, and this made possible our first meeting. Your love and faith in me have moved the Fairy Queen to send me down here to be your wife."
The young scholar's dream was truly fulfilled, and he was transported into a new world of untold happiness and delight. His house was transformed into a heaven by Giang Kieu's sweet presence and the magic of her love.
Tu Yyen loved her dearly and followed her everywhere, forgetting his books and neglecting his studies.
When Giang Kieu reproached him for this, he looked deep into her eyes and said:
"My beloved Giang Kieu, I was once sad and lonely. Then you came into my life and changed everything. You become more beautiful everyday, and it is only natural that I crave to be near you. I cannot act otherwise."
"If you want a successful career, you must listen to me," replied the fairy. "Do not idle any longer; begin your studies anew, or I shall leave you."
He obeyed her reluctantly, but his mind was distracted. Finally
he took to wine.
One day, when he was drunk, the fairy returned to the picture. He regretted his weakness and prayed for her to come back again.
"Beautiful Giang Kieu," he implored, "this one is your slave and begs forgiveness. What will I do without your beloved presence and sweet love?"
Although the fairy did not stir from the picture, Tu Uyen refused to give up. Day after day he waited for her to return, clinging desperately to fading hopes. Again and again he talked to the lady in the picture, promising to obey her; he even talked of committing suicide. At last Giang Kieu stepped out of the picture.
"My lord, if you do not listen to me this time," she said, "I shall be forced to leave you forever."
Tu Uyen gave her his solemn promise and vowed that he would never again disobey her. Fearful of losing her, he began to study hard and soon passed his examinations, qualifying as a mandarin.
Then a son was born to Tu Uyen and Giang Kieu, and a nurse was hired
to take care of him.
One day, when the boy was just over a year old, the 4 hi' air suddenly grew balmy, the sun shone brighter than 65 ever, and celestial music was heard from afar.
Giang Kieu became serious and said to her husband:
"My lord, I have lived with you for more than two years. My time on earth is up, and it pleases the Fairy Queen to call me back to the Purple Hills. Please, do not look depressed and alarmed. Your name is also on the list of the Immortals; let us go to Heaven together."
She then turned to the nurse and said: "Our earthly riches are yours now. Please rear our son properly. When he has passed all his examinations, we will come back to take him to our abode in Heaven."
Giang Kieu burned incense, murmured prayers, and then two miraculous swans, with golden wreaths around their necks and twinkling stars on their heads, appeared before them.
They Climbed onto the backs of the swans and flew away into the warm, blue sky. Sweet celestial music filled the air, as if the gods rejoiced to receive them in Heaven. Seeing this, the villagers built a temple at Tu Uyen's house, in which to worship the Immortal.
* * *
The Tu Uyen temple still stands at the same location in Hanoi; the Eastern Bridge (located between Sugar Street and Copper Street according to legend) and the River to Lich, have both disappeared with time.
From Vietnamese Legends adapted from the Vietnamese by George F. Schultz
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