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(2011-09-06 23:03:34)






分类: 风檐书展-Read





There is really no reason for my writing the life of Su Tungpo except that I want to do it. For years the writing of his biography has been at the back of my mind.



In 1936, when I came to the United States with my family, I brought with me, along with a carefully selected collection of basic Chinese reference books in compact edition, also a few very rare and ancient editions of works by and about this poet, for which all considerations of space were thrown overboard.



I had hoped then to be able to write a book about him, or translate some of his poems or prose, and even if I could not do so, I wanted him to be with me while I was living abroad.



It was a matter of sustenance of the spirit to have on one’s shelves the works of a man with great charm, originality, and integrity of purpose, an enfant terrible, a great original mind that could not conform.



Now that I am able to apply myself to this task, I am happy, and this should be an all-sufficient reason.



A vivid personality is always an enigma. There had to be one Su Tungpo, but there could not be two.



Definitions of a personality generally satisfy only those who make them. It would be easy to pick out from the life and character of a man with such a versatile talent and colourful life a conglomerate of the qualities that have endeared him to his reader.




One might say that Su Tungpo was an incorrigible optimist, a great humanitarian, a friend of the people, a prose master, an original painter, a great calligraphist, an experimenter in wine making, an engineer, a hater of Puritanism, a yogi, a Buddhist believer, a Confucian statesman, a secretary to the emperor, a confirmed winebibber, a humane judge, a dissenter in politics, a prowler in the moonlight, a poet, and a wag.



And yet that might miss the sum total of what made up Su Tungpo. I can perhaps best sum it up by saying that the mention of Su Tungpo always elicits an affectionate and warm admiring smile in China.



For more than other Chinese poets’, Su Tungpo’s personality had the richness and variety and humour of a many-sided genius, possessing a gigantic intellect and a guileless child’s heart—a combination described by Jesus as the wisdom of the serpent and the gentleness of the dove.



Admittedly, this is a rare combination, shared only by a few born upon this earth.



Here was a man! All through his life he retained a perfect naturalness and honesty with himself. Political chicanery and calculation were foreign to his character;



the poems and essays he wrote on the inspiration of the moment or in criticism of something he disliked were the natural outpouring of his heart, instinctive and impetuous, like “the bird’s song in spring and the cricket’s chirp in autumn”, as he put it once;

他的诗词文章,或一时即兴之作,或是有所不满时有感而发,都是自然流露,顺乎天性,刚猛激烈, 正如他所说的“春鸟秋虫之声”;


or again they may be likened to the “cries of monkeys in the jungle or of the storks in high heaven, unaware of the human listeners below”.



Always deeply involved in politics, he was always greater than politics. Without guile and without purpose, he went along singing, composing, and criticising, purely to express something he felt in his heart, regardless of what might be the consequences for himself.



And so it is that his readers today enjoy his writings as those of a man who kept his mind sharply focused on the progress of events, but who first and last reserved the inalienable right to speak for himself.



From his writings shines forth a personality vivid and vigorous, playful or solemn, as the occasion may be, but always genuine, hearty, and true to himself.



He wrote for no other reason than that he enjoyed writing, and today we enjoy his writing for no other reason than that he wrote so beautifully, generously, and out of the pristine innocence of his heart.



As I try to analyse the reasons why for a thousand years in China each generation has a crop of enthusiastic admirers of this poet, I come to the second reason, which is the same as the first, stated in a different way.



Su Tungpo had charm. As with charm in women and beauty and fragrance in flowers, it is easier to feel it than to tell what elements it is composed of.



The chief charm of Su Tungpo was that of a brilliant genius who constantly caused worries to his wife or those who loved him best---one does not know whether to admire and love him for his valiant courage, or stop him and protect him from all harm.



Apparently there was in him a force of character that could not be stopped by anyone, a force that, started at the moment of his birth, had to run its course until death closed his mouth and stopped his laughing chatter.



He wielded his pen almost as if it were a toy. He could be whimsical or dignified, playful or serious, very serious, and from his pen we hear a chord reflecting all the human emotions of joy, delight, disillusionment and resignation.



Always he was hearty and enjoyed a party and a good drink. He described himself as impatient in character and said that when there was something he disliked, he had to “spit it out like a fly found in one’s food”. When he disliked the verse of a certain poet, he characterised it as “the composition of a Shantung school-teacher after sipping bad liquor and eating tainted beef”.



He made jokes on his friends and his enemies. Once at a great court ceremony, in the presence of all the high officials, he made fun of a certain puritanical neo-Confucianist and stung him with a phrase which made the victim smart, and for which he suffered the consequences.



Yet what other people could not understand was that he could get angry over things, but never could hate person.



He hated evil, but the evil-doers did not interest him. He merely disliked them.



Since hatred is an expression of incompetence, he never knew personal hatred, because he did not know incompetence.



On the whole, we get the impression that he played and sang through life and enjoyed it tremendously, and when sorow came and misfortune fell, he accepted them with a smile. That is the kind of charm which I am trying to describe in my lame and halting fashion and which has made him the favourite poet of so many Chinese scholars.



This is the story of a poet, painter, and friend of the people. He felt strongly, thought clearly, wrote beautifully, and acted with high courage, never swerved by his own interests or the chaning fashions of opinion.



He did not know how to look after his own welfare, but was immensely interested in that of his fellow men.



He was warm, generous, never saved a penny, but felt as rich as a king.



He was stubborn, garrulous but witty, careless of his speech, one who wore his heart on his sleeve;



versatile, curious, profound, and frivolous, romantic in manners and classicist in letters, a Confucianist as a father, brother, and husband, but a Taoist under his kin, and a hater of all shams and hypocrisy.



He was so much better a writer and scholar than others that he never had to be jealous, and he was so great he could afford to be gentle and kind.



Simple and unaffected, he never cared for the trapping of dignity; when he was shackled with an office, he described himself as a harnessed deer.



Living in troublous times, he became the stormy petrel of politics, an enemy of a fatuous, selfish bureaucracy and a champion of the people against their oppressors.



With the successive emperors as his personal admirers and the empresses as his friends, Su Tungpo managed to be demoted and arrested, and to live in disgrace.



The best saying of Su Tungpo and the best description of himself was what he sid to his brother Tseyu:



“Up above, I can associate with the Jade Emperor of Heaven, and down below I can associate with the poor folks. I think there is not a single bad person in this world.”



So he had reason to be joyous and unafraid, and went through life like a whirlwind.



The story of Su Tungpo is essentially the story of a mind.



He was a Buddhist in metaphysics, and knew that life was a temporary expression of something else, an eternal spirit in a temporary carcass, but he could never accept the thesis that life was a burden and misery---not quite.



At least for himself, he enjoyed every moment he lived.



Metaphysically he was Hindu, but temperamentally he was Chinese.



Out of the Buddhist faith to annihilate life, the Confucian faith to live it, and the Taoist faith to simplify it, a new amalgam was formed in the crucible of the poet’s mind and perceptions.



The maximum span of human life was only “36,000 days”, but that was long enough; if his search for the elixir of immortality was in vain, still every moment of life was good while it lasted.



His body might die, but his spirit in the next incarnation might become a star in heaven, or a river on earth, to shine, to nourish, and to sustain all living.



Of this living, he was only a particle in a temporary manifestation of the eternal, and it really did not matter very much which particle he happened to be. So life was after all eternal and good, and he enjoyed it. That was part of the secret of the gay genius.



I have not burdened the text with footnotes, but have taken care to make only statements which can be backed by sources, and have as far as possible used the original words, thought this may not be apparent.



As all the sources are in Chinese, footnote references would be of no practical value to the great majority of reader.



A general statement of the sources will be found in the Bibliographical Appendix. To prevent readers from floundering in Chinese names, I have eliminated those of the less important persons, or sometimes indicated only their family names.



It is necessary also to refer to a person consistently by one name only, where a Chinese scholar had four or five. In spelling Chinese names, I have abolished the atrocious “hs” and substituted “sh”, because this is the only sensible thing to do.



Some of the poems I have translated into English verse, and some I have had to paraphrase into proseon account of the literary allusions which would make the translation grotesque and unpoetic, and the meaning obscure without lengthy comments.






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