—Sassenach, why have you come back? —Why do you think I’ve come back? —I dinna ken. You’re the mother of my child, and for that alone, I owe you my soul. But have you come back to be my wife again, or only to bring me word of my daughter?
I was born Yi Tien Cho in Guangzhou, the city of rams. I was found early to have skill in composition, to make the images of my brush resemble the ideas that danced like grains within my mind. I became known as the fenghuang, a bird of fire. My poetry came before the eyes of Wong May, the emperor’s second wife. She asked that I joined her household in Beijing, the Imperial City. It was a great honor, my name inscribed in the book of merit. But there was a condition. All servants of the Royal Wives must be eunuchs. It was most dishonorable to refuse the Emperor’s gift. It was a death sentence. And yet, I had fallen in love with woman.
Not a woman. All woman. Their beauty blooming like lotus flowers, the taste of their breasts like apricots, the scent of a navel in the winter, the warmth of a mound that fills your hand like a ripe peach. I fled. On the night of the lanterns, as the fireworks shot from the palace roof, I left my house and came to a place where the golden words of my poems are taken as the clucking of hens and my brushstrokes as their scratchings. For the love of woman, I am come to a place where no woman is worthy of love. To a place where woman are course and rank as bears. Creatures of no grace, and these women disdain me as a yellow worm, so that even the lowest of whores will not lie with me. By not surrendering my manhood, I have lost all else. Honor. Livelihood. Country. Sometimes I think not worth it.
First Thoughts: Outlander Episode 3x09 “The Doldrums”
I was found early, to have skill in composition–
To make the images of my brush
resemble the ideas that dance like cranes within my mind.
I became known as the fung-wong–a bird of fire.
–Yi Tien Cho (Mr. Willoughby)
A Touch of Mystery and Moonlight. Matthew B. Roberts and Toni Graphia said this episode was about not only how the Artimis is stuck in the “doldrums” but also how the characters aren’t “moving forward” with their relationships. That is definitely true for much of the episode, but there is also something else about this episosde that speaks to mysteries beyond human understanding.
The belief in superstitions pervade the story as does the magic of moonlight, which draws Claire and Jamie closer together. There is also the magic of Yi Tien Cho (Mr. Willoughby), whose words mesmerized the crew long enough to keep Hayes alive until the wind caught up with the ship.
So given all of that, here are my thoughts about episode 3x09:
The drumming at the beginning and the end of the show lets us know we’re not in Lallybroch anymore. Verra effective.
Yes, there were lots of superstitions on the ship. Everyone had to touch the horseshoe or disaster would follow. Men with red hair were considered to be bad luck; others must address them first to avert any ill luck they might bring. But what struck me the most was the bad luck associated with women! At least Claire and Marsali didn’t have to bear their breasts to calm the seas, because the figurehead was doing it for them! (Only men would come up with this particular superstition!)
Still, I liked the Captain’s explanation for why he did not discourage the superstitions, even though they are a double edged sword: “I would rather them make their luck than give up hope.”
I loved the entire segment with Yi Tien Cho (Mr. Willoughby) when he told his sad story to the crew to keep them distracted until the wind caught up with the ship. That was a very difficult monologue to deliver well and Gary Young did a great job with it
Yi Tien Cho said that “a story told is a life lived.” But he refused to tell his story to Claire because “Once I tell it, I have to let it go.” So was he letting go of his past in order to save Hayes? If so, it was a noble sacrifice.
The way that Yi Tien Cho wrote on the deck with water was truly poetic and was reminiscent of Tai Chi in the precise but flowing movements of his hand and the stance of his legs. When he was writing (and speaking) he seemed to be truly a “fung-wong–a bird of fire.”
There was something poignant the first time we encounter Yi Tien Cho writing because when the poem evaporated it left only the bare deck behind. It reminded me of when Buddhist monks spend hours making elaborate sand mandalas and then sweep them away to remind us of the impermanence of everything.
And yet at another point in the story, when the rain comes and joins with the poem that Yi Tien Cho wrote, there is a different sense of the poem. It is almost as if the “bird of fire” that is Yi Tien Cho somehow brought the rain as he let water “dance like cranes” in his imagination. Furthermore, the words Yi Tien Cho spoke literally saved Haye’s life and so it is fitting that the words he wrote joined with the essence of the rain water and disappeared into that life giving force.