Monday, September 8, 2008

Wang Yucheng: Pure Brightness

 Pure Brightness
             Wang Yucheng (954-1001)
It is Pure Brightness. So what?
I have no flowers and wine for the festive.
Alone in this place, spiritless and tasteless,
I am like a monk in the wilderness.
Yesterday, I went to my neighbor, out of customs,
For fire to renew my hearth and stove.
I read by the window early as usual
In the lamp that is being eclipsed by dawn light.
                  Tr. Fan Jinghua


无no 花flower 无no 酒wine 过pass, spend 清明Pure Brightness
兴spirit 味taste 萧然dreary 似like 野wild 僧monk
昨日yesterday 邻neighbor 家house 乞beg 新new 火fire
晓dawn 窗window 分share 与with 读reading 书book 灯lamp

      [宋] 王禹偁 (954-1001 Song Dynasty)
无wu2花hua1无wu2酒jiu3过guo 4清qing1明ming2

About Pure Brightness Day 有关清明和二十四节气:
  In traditional Chinese lunar calendar, a year is divided into 24 seasonal division points 二十四节气. Each season is divided into 6 points, marked by 15 degrees of the sun’s position at ecliptic. The first is of course Beginning of Spring (立春), February 4 or 5 on Gregorian calendar, and the seventh is Beginning of Summer (立夏), May 5 or 6 on Gregorian calendar. Beginning of Autumn (立秋) falls on August 7 or 8, while Beginning of Winter (立冬) is November 7 or 8. It should always be kept in mind that whenever the months are mentioned in classic Chinese poetry (as well as Japanese and Korean classic poetry) they refer to lunar calendar months, generally one month and week later than Gregorian calendar. Pure Brightness (清明) is fifteen days after Vernal Equinox (春分), with 15 degree of the sun’s position at ecliptic.
  Folk customs for Pure Brightness are mostly associated with memorial ceremony for the ancestry. On the day before Pure Brightness, no cooking smoke is allowed, for back in Spring and Autumn Period 春秋时代 (770-476 BC) there was a man called Jie Tui 介推 (or Tui of Jie 介之推) who, once accompanied the dethroned Jin Emperor Wengong 晋文公in exile, declined to come out of hermitage when Wengong took power again. Wengong set fire to the woods Jie Tui secluded, in hope of chasing him out, but Jie Tui, clasping a tree, was burnt to death. Emperor Wengong ordered that on the day Jie Tui died the whole nation should have no fire. Hence, the third line of the poem says that the neighbor comes for fire to renew the stove.

About the poem有关此诗:
  In relation to the folklore, we can interpret the poem along or against the tradition of the cultural shaping of self. The poet, alone and away from hometown, presents himself as a dissident of the locality, as a homeless stranger to any place. This has always been the image of a poet, as “a monk in the wilderness” in the second line.
  When he said that he did not have flowers and wine for the festival, he was actually demarcating himself from the society. Therefore, he could not or needed not “taste” the spirit from the lively customs which should be observed as a source of solidarity. Like most pre-modern intellectuals (in contrast with Granscian Organic intellectual), the aloofness in this personality appears to be a quality for self-accomplishment instead of a guideline for everyday practice. Hence, the poet figure in this poem is more of a Daoist than a Confucian scholar-official. From the perspective of everyday concerns, the poem appears to be affected and self-consumed and self-centered. However, in terms of representation of the poet as such, this is wonderful both in language and mood.
  The last line is worth special rumination. 晓窗dawn window, when linked with 读书 reading, becomes symbolic. As 晓 dawn may also points to 知晓 knowing, and the phrase comes to mean the window to wisdom, and therefore reading by a window through the dark night becomes a process toward dawn and knowledge. When we take the lamp as source of illumination, the dawning of a new day obviously symbolizes the revelation of the source of ultimate wisdom. This again refers back to the Daoist concept of personal and cosmic circulation.
  And then, finally, should wen understand the day as not a seasonal division point but as a point for departure to a personal revelation? That is, from now on, he enters the gate of pure brightness (clear and bright).


Back-translation into contemporary Chinese

王禹偁 Wang Yucheng (954-1001), a poet, prose writer of Song Dynasty in ancient China, with a style name of Yuanzhi元之, was born into a very poor family in the present Shandong Province山东巨野. He was very diligent and hardworking, and upon passing the highest imperial examination, he was appointed to a county official in 983 AD. The next year, he was promoted to the county magistrate of the present Suzhou, which belongs to the central part of the traditional Land South to the River (江南 River South). He suffered several ups and downs in his short career, due to literary inquisition. His poems and prose advocated a style of plainness and easiness.

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