Lu chi (261-303CE) was born into a military family living in a large estate at Hua T’ing in the delta area of the Yangtze River. His family had served the Emperor Wu well and this steered Lu Chi into a career in the military, for which he may not have been entirely suited. With the downfall of the Wu dynasty and the rise in power of the Northern Court at Loyang, Lu Chi gave his allegiance to the latter, and was subsequently appointed literary secretary to the court. He later returned to Hua T’ing, where he wrote his essay on literature, perhaps in the year 300. Lu Chi was called back into military service to protect Loyang but was badly defeated. His rivals conspired to make Lu Chi appear responsible for the disaster and he was executed.
“In his "Essay on Literature [Wen fu]", Lu Chi (or Lu Ji, or Lu Ki) created an essay in rhyming prose about poetry. It deals with the personal imagination and its activity in the process of composition, treating literature as a calling, as a craft, and as a means to truth. In it, Lu Chi provides an unusual insight into how a professional writer goes about the creative task and gives an account of the intricacies of composition.”
Know when the work should be full and when compacted
Times when the spirit freezes, the writer feels dead
Search the depths of the soul.
Art of letters has saved governments from ruin and propogates morals.
Every day is made newer.
Richard W. Bodman “How To Eat a Chinese Poem” 2005
A Chinese poem, like an artichoke, has an outside and an inside, and the inside is the best.
There is the language of abstractions (sorrow, truth, joy, longing) and the language of sensory images (touch of the wind…). The former is easiest for someone non-Chinese to understand, but not very tasty.
The latter is tasty, but hard to understand. It involves a range of traditional associations, and one needs to learn how to read them when placed in conjunction.
A Chinese poem does not have a message: it has a taste, a truth that cannot be put into words:
Lao Tzu [famous founder of Taoism] said “True words are not beautiful and beautiful words are not true.”
Chuang Tzu [the second greatest Taoist of ancient times] said “Words exist to catch meaning: once the meaning is caught, words can be abandoned.”
The I Ching [ancient Chinese religious/philosophical text] says “words do not exhaust meaning.”
Laozi or Lao Tzu, lived sometime in between 6th and 4th century B.C.
Confucius Meeting Laotze.
Zhuangzi or Chuang Tzŭ 370 to 301 BCE.
I Ching symbols
Chinese poetry often deals with this paradox by presenting the reader with its own paradoxes, often by placing abstract and imagistic language side by side.
T’ao Ch’ien (Tao Qian) (Tao Yuanming)
T’ao Ch’ien (365-427 A.D.) was a Confucian gentlemen who retired to write bucolic poetry. His best-known series of poems was titled “On Drinking Wine.” Next page Tao Yuanming by Chen Hongshou
Zhan Ziqian The Spring Excursion Sui Dynasty (581-618)
ZHA Shibiao, The Peach Blossom Spring. (Taoyuan Tu) 1695
Juran “Asking about the Tao in the Autumn Mountains.” c. 975 Tang/Song
Tao Yuanming drinking in the shade of a willow-tree.
The word “I” is absent in the more literal translation.
This, for the Chinese, makes the poet’s personality less obtrusive, and allows the reader to place himself as the subject.
It also allows deliberate ambiguities (is it nature or the poet acting?).
Translation: between extremes
In translating Chinese poems one should try to go between the two extremes: the staccato quality of the literal translation and a version that solves all ambiguities.
World Without a Self
The Chinese critic Wang Kuo-wei comments on the poem that some lines present a “world without a self” for example, “Distantly, I see South Mountain.” [Bodman agrees with this, but thinks it needs explanation.]
Green Hills and White Clouds, by Gao Kogong, 1270-1310 AD.
Bodman’s analysis of the poem
In the first two lines the first paradox is presented: how one can live amidst men and not hear the clamor?
The poem indirectly states that the narrator is no longer interested in official service.
The next two lines imply one does not need to live among the mountains to have the mind of a hermit.
Night Party (partial 1)
"Han XiZai Gives a Banquet" painted by Gu HongZhong (about AD 910-980)