Wang Chuan Poems on a Painted Scroll
The Chinese Character: Ye (野)
Ye (野): This Chinese character was often used throughout the ancient poetry of China. Ye literally means the area of uncultivated land outside the walls of a city. Much like medieval Europe, ancient China surrounded many of it’s larger cities with fortifications and walls for protection against outlaws and invading armies. This area could be the outskirts of the town or city where parcels of land were too large to be walled in. It also included forests, hills, and grasslands. The current and popular term, wilderness, could also be appropriate in some cases.
This meaning of ye can also be extended to people and their positions in society. For example, it can used to describe those who are not in power, who have been ordered away from the imperial palace, or who have had their governmental position taken away from them. Ye made into compound words include: picnic, wildfire, uncivilized, country bumpkin, open fields, and to bivouac.
The traditional character of ye (埜) has two components, with two trees at the top of the character. These two trees are the character for lin (林), which means forest. While the bottom part is the character for tu (土), which means soil, land, earth. So altogether the traditional character ye (埜) expresses a forest that is growing upon the land and soil.
The more modern and simplified character for ye is (野). This version also has two components. On the left side is the character li (里), which means inner, inside. On the right side is yu (予). This character has two different meanings: one is “me”, and the other is “to give”. So together they can mean, the “inner me” or the “inner gift”.
Ye was often used in ancient Chinese poetry as a metaphor.
Wang (望): A Chinese character found throughout the ancient poetry in a multitude of poems. It means to look at, or gaze far into the distance. It also means to look into the future.
A typical Tang or Song Dynasty painting, either flat or in a scroll, is of a landscape. The Chinese, compared to the European painters, did very few portraits. The scenery inside these landscapes are most often of mountains, clouds and mists, forests, rivers and waterfalls, sometimes the water is a lake, a small building or two blended into the trees, outcroppings of rock, maybe a bridge, perhaps a fishing boat, and a single person, or small group of people.
One of the major components of the landscape painting is the expression of wang (望). The black ink, watercolor painting, uses the technique of fading and layers of washes to give the viewer the perception of distance and depth. Often the painting would be oriented to the vertical, with nearby objects painted with detail and boldness at the bottom of the picture, gradually becoming less detailed and faint as the eyes follow the scene upward. The top one third to one half of the painting usually incorporated clouds and mists to move the attention of the viewer into the distant horizon and white space.
This pattern of expression was also used by the ancient Chinese poets. Their words created mental pictures and imagery duplicating this perception of depth and fading into the distance. This not only placed the readers into the landscape scene, but also encouraged them to let their imaginations move away like the expanding ripples of lake water spreading out from a rock, or outcropping of rock.
“Distant men have no eyes, distant trees have no branches.
Distant mountains have no stones, and the are as fine and
delicate as eyebrows.
Distant water has no ripples, and reaches up to the clouds.
These are the secrets.”
Artistic and Philosophical Foundations: Allusions
Ziran (自然): Nature. Things and processes that are natural and spontaneous. Ziran is a compound word: zi (自) and ran (然). ?Zi can mean “of itself” and “naturally”. ?It is something or someone being themselves. ?Ran in this case is an adverbial suffix. ?Like the English suffix “ly”. ?The implication here is that ziran is a verb, a word of action and/or state of being.
It can be Nature, as in the natural world of plants and animals; it can mean natural, as in the natural course of events, and like xian?(閑) it can refer to a state of mind at ease and unaffected. It is Nature being itself. It is something being itself.
This word appears many times in ancient Chinese poetry, both literally and figuratively. ?Following are a few examples:
…“Wind sends the sweet fragrance of lotus
Echoes of clear dew drops falling off the bamboo.”
Summer Day: Southern Pavilion, Thinking of Xin Da:
…”Having the clear sounds of wind and water
No need to go back and listen to the hermit madly singing in the mountains.”
Writing About Master Kong’s Room Within the Cui Wei Temple,
…”Lakes and mountains produce many insights
As a visitor drinking wine alone
Oars put inside, sing songs to myself
Completed songs flow away
Spreading sounds engage the sunset ripples.”
Double Ninth Days in Longsha: Write and Then Send to Liu Zhexu:
…”Sunset on the mountain mists a beautiful glow
Flying birds come back together.? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Within Nature and the Middle Way is the true meaning
When distinguishing wants and needs stop, words are forgotten.”? ? ? Drinking Wine No. 5:
“In the west climb the popular Xianglu summit
To the south see tall waterfalls
Flows suspended for three hundred feet
For ten li spray expands from the pool into the canyon.
Water quickly explodes like lightning
Creating rising rainbows within rainbows
Amazed, it’s source is the Milky Way coming down to earth
Clouds of mist halfway to heaven.
Look up again to see the power and concentration of Nature
Under special circumstances the waterfalls arise
Ocean winds blow without stopping
Moonlight on the river illuminates the sky.”
Gaze Into the Distance at Mt. Lu Waterfalls: Li Bai
“Punctual rain informs us of the season
Only when spring comes is the genesis of risings and development
Following the east wind, evening secretly enters
To moisten things delicately and without a sound.
Open country footpaths, clouds adhere to the sky’s blackness
A single river boat lantern is bright
Daybreak, see the bending red blossoms
Chengdu with layers of brocade-like flowers.”? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?Happy Spring Evening Rains:
…”Mountain pass with climbing flowers of many varieties
In the clouds, meditation houses of piled stones
Buildings follow the contours of land and cliff
Pathways wind around and meander without any straight lines
Fresh spring waters flow artesian from shady cliff walls
Tall vines shade the green ponds and levees…”? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Travel to Mt. Langya Temple:
“Mountain huts with to Daoist scholars
Under one summit they dwell on separate peaks
They can just reach out to touch the white clouds
Gentle sunlight dries the conifers and their unbound hair.
Clear evenings, immortals make their descent
Burned incense full fills the emptiness
Living amidst the joys of wuwei
Ziran gives socity no place to rest…:? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?Mail This to Dao Masters, the Honorable Huang and Liu:
Metaphor: “…comes from the Greek meta, a passing over, or a going from one place to another, and phorein, to move or to carry. Metaphors carry us from one place to another, they enable us to cross boundaries that would otherwise be closed to us. Spiritual truths that transcend time and space can only be borne in metaphorical vessels whose meaning is found in their connotations…”
Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor: Joseph Campbell
The Buddhist ferryboat taking souls to the other shore, and Herman Hesse’s Siddartha having a job as ferryboat worker, fit very well with this etymology. In fact, a ferryboat is a good metaphor for metaphor.
Most of the ancient Chinese poetry is heavily laden with metaphors. Different plants and trees, animals and insects, geographical locations, mountains, rivers and rocks have been used to describe feelings, thoughts, insights and states of mind.
In ancient Chinese poetry, just a few of the more common metaphors:
White clouds: The transitory nature of our ordinary reality.
Gazing into the distance: Means looking into the future, seeing things that we ordinarily don’t see.
Woodcutters and fishermen: people living close to the Way of Daoism
The long parade of historical figures, locations and festivals used to describe and bring meaning to the poet’s current state of affairs.
Potter’s wheel: the samsara cycle of life and death; reincarnation
Mulberry trees: a life of simplicity and subsistence farming
Birds and fish: Government workers and hermit recluses
Peach blossoms: refers to Tao Yuanming’s famous poem describing inhabitants of a paradise on earth existence and state of mind.
White cranes: mode of transportation to Penglai, the Chinese Paradise
Penglai: A place where the immortals live. A heavenly existence.
Biguan: Close the gate, living in rural seclusion
Blue gate: government workers at the palace
Irrigated garden: to protect oneself from the evils of the world, and preserve one’s purity and integrity.
Monkeys: symbols of rural isolation
Crouching tigers: political opposition in the capital
Xian: Unoccupied Leisure:
Artistic and Philosophical Foundations: Yijing and Rasa
Yijing (意境) (Chinese): the mood, atmosphere and concentration necessary to create a work of art.
Rasa (Sanskrit): To capture the essence, the spirit of something in order to evoke a specific mood or emotion in the viewer–reader–listener.
The ancient Chinese poets spent a considerable amount of time and energy exploring, pursuing, creating, and then expressing what it took to achieve what is called yijing. As one reads more and more ancient Chinese poetry, this aspect becomes more and more noticeable.
My wife and I love to travel to the ancient city of Hangzhou in China. It was a capital city during the Southern Song Dynasty. Within the city limits is the magical body of water and surrounding areas known as West Lake. There are many copies and imitations of this lake in China and other countries, but there is only one original. Kind of like what the city of Venice is for the Western world. West Lake is now a Chinese National Park, but in former times, and for centuries, it was known as a place of physical beauty and as a place for yijing.
Two of the most famous Chinese poets were senior government officials here, Bai Juyi and Su Dongpo. Each man has a causeway, or large embankment, named after him. These two embankments dominate the lake’s features. They divide the lake into sections. They are wide enough to have a small and narrow road for bicycles and pedestrians. Each is lined with willow trees and blooming peach trees in the springtime. The embankments, along with islands and the shoreline, have created the inspiration for poems, essays, plays and music for a thousand years or more. Trees, flowers, tea houses, museums, and walkways circumscribe the lake. There are also adjacent temples, gardens, parks as well as the dominant Leifang Pagoda at the southern end. Ten spots, or views, have been identified and named by the Chinese as being particularly conducive to the yijing necessary for artistic creation.
The Spanish city of Segovia is a short train ride into a higher elevations from the capital city of Madrid. The Segovia area is a place that is saturated with yijing. My favorite Spanish-language poet. Antonio Machado, lived here for several years, between the years 1919-1931. The house that he lived in has been preserved and converted into a national historical site. In the central town square stands a life sized bronze stature of Machado with a few lines of his poetry:
“Verdad que el aqua del Eresma
Nos va lamiendo el corazon…
Torres de Segovia ciguenas al sol.”
It is true that the waters of the Eresma
Is licking our hearts…
The towers of Segovia are capstans for the sun!
Down the hillside from the Castle Alzacar lies the “Jardin de Poetas”, the Garden of Poets. It is a beautiful spot overlooking the Eresma River and the hillsides in the distance. There are of course trees, flowers, and the sounds of running water close by. Another place created and dedicated to yijing.
Although he does not explicitly talk about, or discuss yijing, many of the poems of Meng Haoran are significantly infused with it.
…”Sit on a comfortable boulder fishing
Clear water increases the idleness of an unoccupied mind.”
Wan Mountain: Deep River Pools: Meng Haoran
“Sunset on the mountain mists make a beautiful glow
Flying birds come back together.
Within this natural scene lies the artistic mood necessary for creation, and the real meaning of the Dao
When approaching the end of discrimination and analysis,
words are forgotten.”
Drinking Wine No.5: Tao Yuanming