Art and Aesthetics · nature · Politics

40 Verses Of The Muddy Well

At sunrise, on a day trip to Reno, Shangyin drove past the orange groves that cover southern California. On a whim, he stopped his car and got out. Except for an old man pruning some trees by the roadside, there was no-one in sight. The man’s face was wrinkled and dark, and he had a hump on his back. The trees surrounding him were tall and stately, with thick stems, deep green leaves and luscious oranges that shined like lanterns.

“Is this yours?”Shangyin asked. “The trees are so strong, the fruit so full. I’ve never seen such a well-tended orchard!”

“Yes,”’ the old man said, stopping to cast his eyes proudly over his grove, “I’ve been growing fruit all my life. I’m known far and wide for my plants.”

“What’s the secret?

“It’s simple. You cannot make them grow big and flourish. Just let the plant develop according to its own natural instincts. Let the trunk grow freely, make sure the earth is even, preserve the original soil nutrients, pound around it  until firm. Once it sprouts, don’t alarm it by moving the plant, or it won’t bud further. Above all, it should be like nurturing  a young one with care. Afterwards it will develop on its own, live long and flourish.”

“I see,” Shangyin nodded his head.

“Yes,” the old man had stopped picking and went on passionately. “It must follow its own path naturally. Do not try to force it to blossom early, or too much. A lot of other growers have bad habits. They crimp the trunk, change the nutrients, and so forth. The results are not so good. And then there are the lovers…”

“What?”

“Yes, there are those growers who love the seedlings to excess, watching them in the morning, touching them in the evening. Horrible! Worst of all, they open and examine the bark to see if its alive or dead, growing or decaying! The plant grows weaker and weaker. It harms the plants. You become its enemy. Their oranges are smaller and less tasty than mine. You see?”

Shangyin nodded, and then quickly asked, “Do you think that these principles can be used by government officials!”

The old man scratched his head, “ Sir, I only know about growing trees. Governing people is beyond me! “

“But back home in my village, “ Shangyin interjected, “I see officials like to always make decrees and pontificate. It’s as though they love and care for people, but in the end harm them. From morning to night they exhort everyone: go out and grow the crops, please sow the seeds quickly, cut the ripe harvest fast, pick the fruit, gather the cotton, early spin the wool, raise your children well, look after your chicken and pigs.” Later they bang drums  to wake people up, shake their clappers to gather them together, and eventually we’re just too exhausted to even eat! Does this make us happy, or feel safe? In the end folks are just depressed and tired! “

The old man smiled gently, “Maybe we can learn from the oranges!”

(Author’s note: adapted from a Song Dynasty essay)

皇都依仁里,  huáng dōu;dū yī rén lǐ,

西北有高斋。  xī běi yǒu gāo zhāi。

昨日主人氏,  zuó rì  zhǔ rén shì,

治井堂西陲。  zhì jǐng táng xī chuí。

工人三五辈,  gōng rén sān wǔ bèi,

辇出土与泥。  niǎn  chū tǔ yǔ ní。

到水不数尺,  dào shuǐ bù shǔ;shù;shuò chǐ;chě,

积共庭树齐。  jī gòng tíng shù qí。

他日井甃毕,  tā rì jǐng zhòu bì,

用土益作堤。  yòng tǔ yì zuò dī。

曲随林掩映,  qū suí lín  yǎn yìng,

缭以池周回。  liáo yǐ chí zhōu huí。

下去冥寞穴,  xià qù míng mò xué,

上承雨露滋。  shàng chéng  yǔ lù zī。

寄辞别地脉,  jì  cí bié  dì mài,

因言谢泉扉。  yīn yán xiè quán fēi。

升腾不自意,  shēng téng bù zì yì,

畴昔忽已乖。  chóu xī hū yǐ guāi。

伊余掉行鞅,  yī yú diào xíng;háng;xìng yǎng,

行行来自西。  xíng;háng;xìng xíng;háng;xìng  lái zì xī。

一日下马到,  yī rì  xià mǎ dào,

此时芳草萋。  cǐ shí fāng cǎo qī。

四面多好树,  sì miàn duō hǎo;hào shù,

旦暮云霞姿。  dàn mù  yún xiá zī。

晚落花满地,  wǎn  luò huā mǎn dì;de,

幽鸟鸣何枝?   yōu  niǎo míng hé zhī。

萝幄既已荐,  luó wò jì yǐ jiàn,

山樽亦可开。  shān zūn yì kě kāi。

待得孤月上,  dāi dé;děi;de gū yuè shàng,

如与佳人来。  rú yǔ  jiā rén lái。

因之感物理,  yīn zī gǎn  wù lǐ,

恻怆平生怀。  cè chuàng  píng shēng huái。

茫茫此群品,  máng máng cǐ qún pǐn,

不定轮与蹄。  bù dìng lún;qiāng yǔ tí。

尧得舜可禅,  xǐ dé;děi;de shùn kě chán;shàn,

不以瞽瞍疑。  bù yǐ gǔ sǒu yí。

禹竟代舜立,  yǔ jìng dài shùn lì,

其父吁咈哉。  qí fù yù;xū fú zāi。

嬴氏并六合,  yíng shì bìng  liù hé,

所来因不韦。  suǒ lái yīn bù wéi。

汉祖把左契,  hàn zǔ bǎ zuǒ qì,

自言一布衣。  zì yán yī  bù yī。

当涂佩国玺,  dāng;dàng tú pèi  guó xǐ,

本乃黄门携。  běn nǎi huáng mén xié。

长戟乱中原,  cháng;zhǎng jǐ luàn  zhōng yuán,

何妨起戎氏?    hé fáng qǐ róng dǐ。

不独帝王尔,  bù dú  dì wáng ěr,

臣下亦如斯。  chén xià yì rú sī。

伊尹佐兴王,  yī yǐn zuǒ xìng;xīng wáng,

不藉汉父资。  bù jiè;jí hàn fù zī。

磻溪老钓叟,  pán;bō qī lǎo diào sǒu,

坐为周之师。  zuò wèi;wéi zhōu zhī shī。

屠狗与贩缯,  tú gǒu yǔ fàn zèng;zēng,

突起定倾危。  tū qǐ dìng qīng wēi。

长沙启封土,  cháng shā  qǐ fēng tǔ,

岂是出程姬?    qǐ shì chū chéng jī。

帝问主人翁,  dì wèn  zhǔ rén wēng,

有自卖珠儿。  yǒu zì mài zhū er;ér。

武昌昔男子,  wǔ chāng xī  nán zǐ,

老苦为人妻。  lǎo kǔ  wéi rén qī。

蜀王有遗魄,  shǔ wáng yǒu yí pò,

今在林中啼。  jīn zài lín zhōng tí。

淮南鸡舐药,  huái nán jī shì yào,

翻向云中飞。  fān xiàng yún zhōng fēi。

大钧运群有,  dà jūn yùn qún yǒu,

难以一理推。  nán yǐ yī lǐ tuī。

顾于冥冥内,  gù yú  míng míng nèi,

为问秉者谁?    wèi;wéi wèn bǐng zhě shuí。

我恐更万世,  wǒ kǒng gèng;gēng  wàn shì,

此事愈云为。  cǐ shì yù yún wèi;wéi。

猛虎与双翅,  měng hǔ yǔ shuāng chì,

更以角副之。  gèng;gēng yǐ jiǎo fù zhī。

凤凰不五色,  fèng huáng bù  wǔ sè,

联翼上鸡栖。  lián yì shàng jī qī。

我欲秉钧者,  wǒ yù bǐng jūn zhě,

朅来与我偕?    qiè lái yǔ wǒ xié。

浮云不相顾,  fú yún bù xiàng;xiāng gù,

寥泬谁为梯?    liáo jué shuí wèi;wéi tī。

悒怏夜参半,  yì yàng yè jiāng;jiàng bàn,

但歌井中泥。  dàn gē jǐng zhōng ní。

 

West of Luoyang, In the Yiren neighborhood

A great house lies to the northeast

Yesterday evening, before the host’s clan

A water well was dug on the mansion’s west side

Three generations of workers together toiled

Carts bore dirt and mud from the bottom.

With several chi still to go

Mounds of dirt towered by the trees

Days later they lay bricks about the wall,

And built up the earth embankment

Its curved line set apart the woods

Behind, it embraced the pond

Down stretched a deep black cave

Above, a rainy mist loomed

One bids farewell to the veins in the earth,

As well as to the springs within.

“I didn’t expect such a rush of water,

How unlike the unruly past.”

I arrange my bridle

And slowly walk west

I walk my horse all day, alighting here.

How pleasant is the smell of the grass

Trees are on all sides

Morning and evening bring so many colored clouds

In the evening fallen flowers cover the ground

Strange birds sing from what unseen branches?

A wisteria vine canopy, a carpet of grass

A cup of ale to toast the mountain to one’s heart’s content

Wait until the lonely moon rises

Like a lovely lady approaching.

But, because one realizes everything changes

One’s heart is wretched all through life

Vast and boundless is everything

Always moving like the cart wheels and horse’s hoofs

Yao happily abdicated the throne for Shu[1]

Not because of stupidity and stubbornness, for he had no doubts

Yu replaced Shun

His father made many sigh!

Ying Zheng united six kingdoms, [2]

All because of his father Lu Buwei!

The Han race completed the deal

With a king who once wore coarse clothes

The Han pendant became the Imperial jade seal

The first generation were adopted those of the Yellow Door[3]

Military force disrupted the people of the Central Plains

Naturally, the Rong and Di tribes arose.

Not only the King failed

Nobles did so too.

Yi Yin helped the King recover

Without a father’s aid. [4]

The old fisherman of Panxi[5]

Would become the teacher of King Zhou

Then, a dog meat merchant and a silk vendor

Suddenly snatched peace from the brink of disaster[6]

When at Chang Shan  a kingdom was founded

Who knew that it would be because of Lady Ji? [7]

Or when a king inquired of an old man

Whose father once sold pearls

A man in Wuchang pretended to be a woman

And married a man through poverty, until death

King Shu lost his soul to a little bird

That now warbles in the forest

The Sage of Huainan’s chickens and dogs ate magic pills[8]

Turning to the clouds, up they flew!

The potter’s wheel spins out all things.

Hard it is to rotate just once.

Peering into the great depths

I ask the Great Spirit, wherefore all this change?

I dread to think that ten thousand worlds from now

One will be at a loss in the face of great disruption.

The fierce tiger will grow great wings

And add two horns for invincibility

The phoenix will no longer have five colors

But quickly be joined by chickens in a coop!

How I wish that whoever turns the wheel

Would leave it and offer me company.

Floating clouds and deserts come and go, to each other invisible

Who will build a ladder to heaven for me?

Despondent as midnight arrives

I can only sing of the mud in the well!

 

Musical Interlude: Sunrise,a prelude for piano composed and played by Mark Obama Ndesandjo

Listen to this piece as the sun rises in the morning. What virtue does the sun hold that allows it to rise daily?

Musical Interlude: Rachmaninoff Etude Tableaux Op 39 No 5 In E Flat Minor performed by Mark Obama Ndesandjo.

This Rachmaninoff etude is like a Mona Lisa formed from sound. It alternates between happiness and sadness, like her smile. The major and minor keys of e flat represent dualities of emotion, and this piece seems to wobble on a fence, to topple this way or that. Rachmaninoff wrote these pieces with a picture in mind, but he encourages each of us to create our own.

***

Notes:
[1] Yao and Shun were the mythical first kings of China

[2] The Emperor Qin (Yin Zheng) unified China from 6 kingdoms (259-210BC). He was the first king to use the official term ‘Emperor’. The king who wore coarse clothes probably refers to Liu Bei, courtesy name Xuande, as a warlord in the late Eastern Han dynasty who founded the state of Shu Han in the Three Kingdoms period and became its first ruler. (Wikipedia)

[3] The yellow door represents the palace eunuchs

[4] Yi Yin was a slave who rose to assist the Shang dynasty Emperor Tang in defeating the Xia dynasty and establishing the Shang c. 1600BC.

[5] Jiang Ziya (c.1100BC) was a mythical sage advisor to King Wen of Zhou state, who built the Western Zhou dynasty. He is the purported authof the Liu Tao (Six Strategic Teachings), a military classic.

[6] Refers to Lin Kuaiyuan and Guan Yingyuan, celebrated nobles of the first Han dynasty, who once were a dog merchant and a silk vendor respectively.

[7] Legend says the Han Emepror Jing raped a Lady Ji. She gave birth to the Prince of Changshan, who eventually became King.

[8] The Western Han King of Huianan:  after he ascended to Heaven, dogs and chickens found his apparatus for making the elixir of immortality, ate the pills and also ascended to heaven.

 Featured image Credit

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