Tzu-hsia asked, saying, What is the meaning ofThe tricky line here is Confucius' comment "The painting comes after the plain groundwork." In Chinese that's 子曰繪事後素. Waley reads 後 as a verb, "to come after" but this could be (and has been) read as a preposition, giving us "After painting, the plain groundwork [white]." That would leave Tzu-hsia's last question as being something like "And after ritual?"
Oh the sweet smile dimpling,
The lovely eyes so black and white!
Plain silk that you would take for coloured stuff.
The Master said, The painting comes after the plain groundwork. Tzu-hsia said, Then ritual comes afterwards? The Master said, Shang [Tzu-hsia's familiar name] it is who bears me up. At last I have someone with whom I can discuss the Songs!
The question of whether ritual is part of the natural order of things or part of culture is again played out here in grammatical interpretation. Too bad the Chinese didn't develop a grammar for their own language--the commentaries rather re-phrase the sentences so it is clear which interpretation they use. (They never say explicitly "That's a verb here, not an preposition" or anything like that.)