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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In the Zhongnan Mountains (by Wang Wei)

I've written before (here and here) about the wonderful book by Francois Jullien, which I keep close by my side these days -  The Great Image Has No Form.  Here's a brief passage explaining one of the book's central ideas:

When the Chinese painter says from the first that "the mountain is a great thing" (Guo Xi), it is clear that "great," far from being flat description, must be understood in the sense of the "great image."  Its greatness lies in the fact that it does not have one form but, as the Shi-tao says "ten-thousand" - like the "ten-thousand" things within the Tao. A mountain is without form in the sense that it contains countless forms, with no single one predominating.
As a fine illustration of the point Jullien is making about the mountain's greatness, here is a poem by Wang Wei that I translated this morning:

In the Zhongnan Mountains

Taiyi reaches Heaven
Already it seems and
From there the mountains  
Run down to the sea

White clouds encircle
The highest peaks
Merging them together
Sky and cloud intermixed
Obstructing the view

The boundaries among
The peaks grow indistinct
Shadow and light
Crowd together
Filling up the ravines

Hoping to find
Lodging for the night
From across the river bank
I call to an old woodcutter


太乙近天都     连山到海隅
白云回望合     青霭入看无
分野中峰变     阴晴众壑殊
欲投人处宿     隔水问樵夫


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