Welcome to Mastering Chinese Poetry. The poem we shared today was written by Yang Wanli, a famous Chinese poet during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.). He created the unique "Chengzhai" style in his later years. His poems are picturesque, refreshing and easy to read, as we will discover soon. To better appreciate this wonderful piece, you may want to close your eyes and imagine that there is a little pond just in front of you.
The little pond
The fountain mute won't let the streamlet slip away.
Trees love soft shadows in clear water on a fine day.
The little lotus bloom has just shown its tip slight.
When all at once you see a dragonfly alight.
(Translated by Xu Yuanchong)
Only four short verses, light but rich, drawing the beautiful scenery of the lotus pond in early summer.
The first and second sentences build up an extremely peaceful vibe. See, the spring water flows out quietly, and the outflowing water forms a small trickle. It is reluctant to allow more water to flow because the spring cherishes this trickle greatly. The word “惜”(cherish) is used creatively here, adding a real feeling to the spring.
Now, please look up a bit. You can see the shades of lush tree cover the water. It seems they also love the soft sunshine and water here.
The third and fourth verses capture a "close-up" scene for us: the small lotus has not bloomed yet, but a dragonfly can't wait to perch atop it to enjoy the early summer. The highlight of this work is that Yang anthropomorphizes everything he encounters in nature, from the running water to the tree shades. This makes Yang’s poetry more like a fairy tale, because in his novel eyes, water can feel, trees can love, and everything in the world has a soul, just like us.
In the author's composition of the small pond image, his love of nature is easy to discern. And we can also detect an appreciation and pursuit from Chinese people of the beauty of "natural harmony" since ancient times. Indeed, only real feeling from one's life experience and pure love from a deep heart can light up a work with everlasting artistic charm and bring it great popularity.
Obviously, Yang Wanli has made it.
In his early years, Yang Wanli mainly learned from history, books and teachers. He labored to serve his country and people. But nothing in life is certain. He was banished to remote areas for his dissidence. After being frustrated by a luckless political career, he retired to the mountains and started to learn from nature by observing the surroundings and feeling the impressive beauty in nature. Countless ordinary but beautiful scenes like the small pond have helped him with inner peace, and of course, inspired him a lot.
People nowadays also encounter many problems of life. By following Yang’s method of learning from nature, we may find the answer.