Two Pages Of 40 Verses For Li Gong In Return For His Painting Of The Pines
A cool dew covers ten thousand plants1
I open the scroll to reveal the old pines
Everywhere the mountains are covered with a sea of green
How they grow on such peaks remains to be seen?
Unaided, their lonely roots spread far
With nature’s vigor, the trunks are straight
A distinguished mien graces their crest
As sturdy as a brave knight’s chest
The branches extend gently, hanging down
Suddenly coiling upwards as if to snatch the empty sky .
Like hornless dragons they flee
Rushing up to the clouds silently
Tender leaves grow from youthful sprigs
Soft as fox fur swirls and rolls.
Thick and rich as a child’s frowsy forehead.
Or a beautiful concubine’s dark eyebrows instead?
Looking long at your work dazzles me
Then suddenly it changes into fresh glorious scenes
Sir please forgive what I said about the straight and true
Now they seem to drag and pull at a woman’s lithe figure.
They dip down into a bleak and forlorn place
As if in green kingfisher quilts draped
Or like the maidens of Ji Luo2
Their faces adorned as daybreak’s light radiant pours
One wonders how such tender brush strokes capture this hardy spirit
Or when thick, challenge the celestial woodsman’s tools
Sparrows and swallows above are ever quieter
The fog arises often, ever thicker
The thick lotus is shamed when sunset arrives so soon
The green bamboo that it is so empty inside
Perhaps the pines may assume the shape of a phoenix charm
Or shelter the Dragon that makes the rains form
The Cassia trees of Huai mountain curl and fall
The mulberry trees of Shu form a canopy3
Branches appear so fragile and weak
Wherefore this power so deep?
In olden times, one knew of the Xianyang King
Recently, one speaks of he of Ji Mountain
A pine may be blessed as a god4
Or become a high minister when an emperor nods
Finally, the southern lands and the northern capital,
The distant fog and rain combine.
With each night of quiet and peace
Will the Southwest wind arise or cease ?
Once, a great beauty appreciated you
As one would a moon shaped clock
More than her eighteen or nineteen jewelry baskets she cared
Or her red, fragrant silk in countless layers.
A demon stole into her chamber
Spread wide its dense net to catch the luan
A carmine feathered arrow proved its lethal intent
To be or not to be was settled in an instant
Life is like the green seas and the moon
Death treads the frosty outskirts of fairyland
All that she handled in her life
Was lost and dispersed through servants and strife
I have heard of the monster-revealing mirror5
As well as the celestial’s sharp sword
For each body there resides a space
Where common things have no place
His Excellency grasped this picture
And for it sought a suitable owner
Being the chosen one pleases me
I smile, and walk with a light step you see!
In return I gave him the qin with lacquered birds
I hung you among curtains of true pearls
Then, summer was steamy and hot
Inside, it was more like deep winter than not
I recall days I rebuffed the carriage rides
And I studied the Way at East Yuyang Mountain
Where in their thousands, clustered the pines
And the road led to Qiongyuan Shrine
One would chant the Dark Cloud song6
Holding the golden lotus in one’s palm
The thick haze curled about my rainbow colored sleeves
Their light reflecting off of the bamboo stalks and leaves
Damn, how I have fallen into this mortal net so low
And I will leave, lost to the Emperor, like his bow7
My soul rises to the Heavenly Temple with devotion
I view the morning sun in its brilliance rise over the ocean
In the end this purple phoenix’ will finally return
Having entrusted you to old Fu Sang8
Reading of Painting of the Pines by Mark Obama Ndesandjo
When I first arrived in China, I would visit various places in Shenzhen, to make friends and build business relationships. One day, outside the office of a new acquaintance, as I was heading towards the bus station, I saw a man follow me out of the lobby. He was dark and bent, with a crouching walk, as if weighed down by a package he held in one hand.
He called out. I turned my head and he waved at me vigorously, so insistently that I walked over to him. ‘I have something I want to show you.’ His voice was low, almost a mutter. He looked around furtively, as if to avoid being noticed, but the courtyard was empty, and there were no birds to be heard among the green trees or in the blue sky above. In the distance, we heard the rush of cars and buses down Shenzhen’s busy streets.
He bent down and unrolled what appeared to be a long scroll. It was dark, as if covered in oil, and pictures of mountains and forests could be dimly seen in its haze. “Very precious,’ he whispered. ‘How much?’ I asked.’It is original!’ he said excitedly. I felt I was part of a murder or espionage mystery. I realized the work was either a fake or real and stolen. My courage vanished. I walked away and never saw him again.
Musical Interlude: Preludes for Piano 1,2,3
These three piano meditations were composed by me and reflect the three fundamental sentiments found in the poem.
The first meditation centers around longing in time and space, the sentiment of one who is constantly out of his touch with his place and period in time.
The second meditation focuses on relationships, in particular between a man and a women, and reflects the rise and surge of feelings, rather like at the end of the poem.
The third meditation is of an elliptic or circular nation, rather evoking the wheel of life and destiny that LSY tends to refer to in Buddhist and Taoist thinking.
1. The painting was a gift from Li Gong, who passed the Literary Examination with LSY in 837AD.
2. Two famous beauties of the fifth century who were presented as gifts to the King of Wu, and helped engineer his downfall.
3. Referring to trees that twist among each other, and a huge mulberry tree that had a canopy like top.
4. An Emperor of Qin made a sacrifice on Tai mountain and after a storm came, sheltered under a pine tree which he subsequently made a ‘high minister’
5. A mirror that reflected the images of monsters, and a sword that could only be welded by virtous kings, like in the legend of King Arthur.
6. A song sung by one of the ladies in waiting to the Queen Mother of the West
7. A King of Chu lost his bow and did not bother to look for it, saying one man’s loss is another man’s gain.
8. The old immortal ruled over a magic island in the sea on which are two mulberry tree with berries of immortality. This poem was a gift in return for a painting that LSY much admired. It describes the painting and then goes on to discuss the mortal condition.
5 thoughts on “Painting of the Pines”
The poem was simply amazing. I have desire to learn Mandarin, I just purchased the Fluenz course. The music also added depth and power to the poem…I am amazed by your work…
Thanks Terrance glad you are learning mandarin. I suggest making some chinese friends and encouraging them to speak to you in Mandarin (e.g. try to only answer in Mandarin). I also think it is most rewarding to not only speak, but read and write. I find that most great art, whether music, poetry or art, is linked by passion…I am glad a little of my passion touched you too!
This poem takes me back to Huangshan, the inspiration for most of these cliff and pine paintings. The poet captured the imagination of the viewer well, and your translation brings it across clearly. The piano adds a new dimension that I found very appropriate (great idea and I hope you add more of your music to the project).
Thanks Fritz. Also interesting how this picture becomes the setting for so much more. In those days, poets were op-ed writers sans newspapers.
Fritz, congratulations on your new book. More music is on the way!