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Sunday, January 21, 2007


(Wang Shi Chih 321 – 379 AD)

This is the ninth year of Yung Ho (AD 353), kuei chou in the cycle. We met in the late spring at the Orchard pavilion in Shanyin to celebrate the water festival.
All the scholar friends are gathered and there is a goodly mixture of old and young. In the background lie high peaks and deep forests, while a clear gurgling brook catches the light to the right and to the left. We then arrange ourselves sitting on its bank, drinking in succession from the goblet as it floats down the stream. No music is provided, but with drinking and with song our hearts are gay and at ease. It is a clear spring day with mild, caressing breeze. The vast universe, throbbing with life, lies before us, entertaining the eye and pleasing the spirit and all the senses. It is perfect.
I often thought that the people of the past lived and felt exactly as we of today. Whenever I read their writings I felt this way and was seized with its pathos. It is a cool comfort to say that life and death are different phases of the same thing and that a long span of life or a short one does not matter. Alas! The people of the future will look on us as we look on those who have gone before us. Hence I have recorded here those present and what they said. Ages may pass and times change, but the human sentiments will be the same. I know that future readers who set their eyes on these words will be affected the same way.

Wang Shi Chih was a renowned Chinese calligraphist. The above thoughts he inscribed on a stele which became famous. So many people took rubbings of it that it became badly worn. He inscribed it anew, but could not catch the spontaneity of the original which is still the one preferred by scholars.

We are treated to a little cameo of a delightful, civilised picnic in China 1,700 years ago. His last two sentences are so true (and poignant). But I am sure he would never have foreseen that "future readers" would enjoy his thoughts via the Worldwide Web!
I am indebted to Lin Yutang for this translation (and thank you, Duchess, for the book I took it from!)


herhimnbryn said...

And read and read and read. I to will need to 'copy' this.
Don't remember giving you the book, but I must have great taste!

chiefbiscuit said...

This is amazing stuff. It just goes to show that the more things change the more they stay the same - a cliche i know but no matter how many times you say it, it still doesn't make it any less true.

Vita said...

Sounds like a delightful picnic.

Avus said...

H. Yes, you do have good taste! I notice that you have "My Country and my People" by Lin Yutang sandwiched between a McInness and "Theatre World 1965"

chiefb. Yes, I agree - why do people not realize that, even in remote ages, there were the same thoughts, happinesses and miseries that we experience today.

V. I would have loved to have been there! (especially with the goblet floating down the stream)

Avus said...
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The Crow said...

Thank you for the link at BB's blog to this post, Avus.

It is comforting, somehow, to know that, for all our modernity, we are not much changed in 1,700+ years.