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The Journey to the West

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Friday, April 20, 2018

The Way to the Source Revealed (Wang Anshi)

A good man's fall from power may be a mixed blessing.  That at least seems to have been the case for Wang Anshi, who reached the heights of power as prime minister during the Song Dynasty, only to fall into exile and disgrace as the winds of fortune shifted.  It was a loss to his countrymen, as Wang had been a strong advocate of political and social reform, attempting to ease the burden of taxation which had fallen disproportionately on the peasants and merchants, and place it where it more properly belonged on the large landowning class.  But it was a gain to posterity inasmuch as once Wang was ousted from power by a conservative backlash, he settled into exile in the hinterlands, where he devoted himself to poetry and gardening.   Here are two of the poems Wang wrote in exile in his later years, which I translated this morning, after spending an hour in the garden, clearing up the strawberry beds and getting a bit closer to the source myself.

The Way to the Source Revealed

Long absent
From the city streets

Less mind paid to
Human cravings

Secluded amidst fragrance and
Embracing the earth’s bounty

Gathering up the seeds
And drinking of the primal source




Upon the Earth

Fan Li set out
Upon the five lakes
Embracing the horizon
Leaving not a trace

So I go forth on
The blue green waters
Of the ocean in search
Of rebirth

Such a pity
Upon earth there is
So much disturbance
And evil

Most things possess
A kernel of virtue
But it dares not
Show itself


--> 最有仁不敢行

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