我可是個明代的文人雅士? Could I be a Ming Dynasty Literati?

Translated by Helen Wallimann  

Could I be a Ming dynasty literati? 我可是個明代的文人雅士?

Can I imagine myself as a Ming dynasty literati
Living amidst all those exquisite objects?

The yellow rosewood writing desk with its inserted shoulder joints
The blue porcelain water pot in the shape of a frog
The brush pot with the eighteen arhats
Sitting here all day long fondling those rare objects
Undisturbed by the political struggles and cruel tortures outside

When it's time for a rest I call my page-boy, ordering him to carry
all the heavy things while I choose a place with a fine view
of distant mountains … either to play the zither in a pine valley
or to wash my inkstone in the water of a trickling spring
while my elegant friends finely portray me in their pictures.

Somehow they managed to bequeath their faces to history
those eighteen scholars, thin or fat
They lived without much care, or so it seems, with cunning
or with everything perfect all around, their refined smiles
leaving it to others to put up resistance

They racked their brains to obtain a valuable edition
or the priceless zither known as 'Rain and wind in the banana grove'
They spared no efforts at self-representation
If there were problems, at least they should not be of a vulgar nature
After all, they were the art lovers of their generation

From the lotus heron patterned jade incense burner
whisps of smoke curled up
together with the whispered rumours from the capital
the dazed looks they provoked
stifling all and everything in a sweet perfume

Who cares if a son or grandson of the prime minister has passed the imperial exam
Who cares if someone or other has been arrested or released
Concentrate all your attention on a piece of jade
on its perfectly rounded markings
and its quotations from ancient poetry

Come to think of it, it was no easy thing to be a Ming dynasty literati
Here you rejoice at the reconstruction of eaves and lanterns
But they're only ancient shadows projected onto a foreign wall


After a visit in December 2004 of an exhibition of paintings from the Shanghai Museum collection. at the Musée Rath, Geneva




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Copyright © AIEL 2008. All words and images are the property of Leung Ping Kwan and his associates. All Rights Reserved.