When studying poetry from China, I noticed three common traits in the ancient masters: hermitry, piety and drinking. What an extreme combination!
Now I’m sure these poets had more common things in common than that but either they liked to write about these subjects or people liked to write or publish these subjects about them. Or maybe I isolated these traits to flatter my own childhood mythology of the old, kung-fu sage living wild in the forest.
Nevertheless, I mean no disrespect to these fine poets and wish to loudly celebrate their virtues in this next instalment of our poetry campaign on Youtube and this blog. And, again, without disrespect, ask that we consider how these extreme traits either sculpted these poets or these poets sculpted these traits through poetry. Did the art bring them to extremes or did the extremes bring them to art? I think it’s important to note that apparently enjoying wine was not considered a bad habit in China by these poets. Their poetry suggests that it indicated a person who enjoys the raptures of life — when they are available.
Last week, this blog discussed how artists can benefit from making a study of their contemporaries as much as the masters of our crafts. This week, we’ll try the flipside and look at some of the oldest and, to this day, most revered master poets from China.
Poetry from back in that ancient day in China is shrouded in mysticism and exoticism. How can any of us be anything but ignorant when reflecting on a culture and time that is like a fantasy novel? Yet as far away as these times and these poets are from us now, through their poetry, they join us today. And they are wonderful souls to meet; hermit souls that bring us poetry devoted to nature and harmony without ignoring the restraints of the human society and court that surrounds its borders. Essentially that seems to be what hermitry gives to the writer — or the writer takes from hermitry; wild isolation wouldn’t be that interesting if it wasn’t an escape from a cultivated society.
A big difference I noticed in the way I read this ancient, Eastern poetry, compared to most of the modern Western poetry I have been featuring, is that each line of poetry needs a pause afterwards. It does not flow like water or music. It makes for pretty slow reading but I think that’s part of its charm. Please forgive me though for producing a 9 minute video, as a result.
As fantastic legends or passionate extremists or ordinary human craftsmen, this week’s poetry video, for the lyw Youtube channel, would like to introduce you to the masters: Hanshan, Po Chü-i, Tu Fu, Wang Wei and Shiwu.
Shout out to the great interpreter and translator, Red Pine, aka Bill Porter. His translations have made many important Chinese texts available in English and thus to a greater part of the Western world. As well, his translations are beautiful and show an incredible poet in himself.
Also, if curious about the biographies of these fine fellows, below is a list of my online research sources:
Hope you enjoy the video:
blog by lyw
Blog image sources:
Bamboo brush painting: By Gu An – Zhongguo gu dai shu hua jian ding zu. 1999. Zhongguo hui hua quan ji. Zhongguo mei shu fen lei quan ji. Beijing: Wen wu chu ban she. Volume 8. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9047267
Mountain painting: http://lightsup.ru/art-i-foto/kitayskaya-zhivopis.html