Wednesday, February 20, 2013

another gem from old-world china

painting bambooo: a song  (by po chu-yi)

preface: music supervisor hsiao yueh is highly skilled at painting bamboo and is considered without equal by his contemporaries.  astonishingly, hsiao himself barely prizes his art- such that there are those who spend years shamelessly begging him without avail for but one twig or spear.  knowing that by nature I truly love bamboo and have done so since boyhood, he makes me a present of a watercolor painting with fifteen spears.  touched by his feeling for me, and valuing his art more than anything else on this earth, I write this humble song to reciprocate:

of all the plants, bamboo is the most difficult to paint.
among ancient, middle period, and modern artists alike, no one else has been able to capture its likeness or essence.  master hsiao's brush alone brings out the similitude- this is going to sound terribly grandiose and exaggerated, but oh well: he's the one supreme watercolorist in the entire history of painting.  everyone knows this, even if they don't want to admit it. 

others paint the bamboo thick and gnarled;
hsiao paints each spear lean and sturdy.
others paint the bamboo tufts lifeless, limp, and drooping;
hsiao paints the branches alive, as if each leaf were actually moving, 
the way plants do out in nature when there is but the merest trace of breeze.

our friendship is partially limited by vast geographical distance and sometimes overwhelming responsibilities within our respective communities, but I treasure it more than these threadbare words can express.  I love and respect supervisor hsiao very much indeed.

without roots, these bamboos grow from his mind.
without shoots, these bamboos are shaped by his brush.
by a deserted creek, beside a winding bank,
two clusters, fifteen spears, dense and luxuriant.
stunning: like a woman's face that one has been against one's will been bewitched by. 
somber: summing up the gentle aura of soft rain and mist.

I look up and suddenly forget it's merely a painting!
inclining my ears to listen to whatever is here in this quiet,
I seem to hear the selfsame breezes and rustlings, even as I sit here alone in the vast stillness of my chamber.  in the western corner, seven spears vigorous and strong-  I clearly remember seeing them before a rock at t'ien-chu monastery;  in the eastern corner, eight spears sparse and lean- I recall having seen them in the snow at the temple of the goddess hsiang.

elegant airs, murky thoughts, are appreciated by only a few;
we look at each other, and I sigh in vain.
what a pity master hsiao is getting old;
his hands tremble, his eyes dim, his head the color of sand!
and yet, he implies that his watercolors are getting better with each passing month!
when he's finally finished, such bamboos will never be seen again in all of human history.

such is the impermanence of life.
I will always be grateful for my relationship with supervisor hsiao.