Saturday, July 31, 2010

Where flowers drop and waters flow

Shen Fu's memoir, Six Records of a Floating Life (1809), describes his life as an undistinguished civil servant and art enthusiast, with an account of some of the famous landscapes seen on his travels.  The book's popularity has rested on the poignant account Shen Fu gives of his marriage to Yün, with their shared interests and misfortunes from the age of thirteen, when their marriage was arranged, to Yün's death at the age of forty.  Here is an incident from a section on 'The Pleasures of Leisure' in which the two of them make a a miniature landscape in a rectangular pot:

'The mountain was on the left, with another small mound on the right.  Along the mountain we made horizontal patterns, similar to those on the mountain paintings by Yün-lin.  The cliffs were irregular, like those along a river bank.  We filled an empty corner of the pot with river mud and planted duckweed, white with many petals.  On top of the stones we planted morning glories, which are usually called cloud pines.  It took us several days to complete.  By the deep autumn the morning glories had grown all over the mountain, covering it like wisteria hanging from a rock face, and when their flowers bloomed they were a deep red.  The white duckweed also bloomed, and letting one's spirit wander among the red and white was like a visit to Peng Island.  We put the pot under the eaves and discussed it in detail: here we would build a pavilion on the water, there a thatched arbour; here we should inscribe a stone with the characters 'Where flowers drop and waters flow'.  We could live here, we could fish there, from this other place we could gaze off into the distance.  We were as excited about it as if we were actually going to move those imaginary hills and vales.  But one night some miserable cats fighting over something to eat fell from the eaves, smashing the pot in an instant.' (Trans. Leonard Pratt and Chiang Su-hui)

Ni Zan (also known as Yün-lin),  
Woods and Valleys of Mount Yu, 1372

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