“The Terror” from the Wen Fu

Here is an interesting section/stanza from the ancient Chinese work Wen Fu (The Art of Writing).  It is entitled “The Terror”.

I worry that my ink well will run dry, that right words cannot be found ; I want to respond to the moment’s inspiration.

I work with what is given ; that which passes cannot be detained.

Things move into shadows & they vanish ; things return in the shape of an echo.

When Spring arrives, we understand that Nature has its own reason.

Thoughts are lifted from the heart on breezes, and language finds its speaker.

Yesterday’s buds are this morning’s blossoms which we draw with a brush on silk.

Every eye knows a pattern, every ear hears a distant music.

Wen Fu was written by Lu Chi (261 AD – 300 AD), who was a scholar, a military leader, and the the Literary Secretary in the the Emperor’s court.  It is very short and may take an average reader 15-20 minutes to complete.  The hardcopy  translation I have was written by Sam Hamill and published by Breitenbush Books in 1987.   A far more poetic version can be found at http://web.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/web%20publishing/LuChi.htm.

I like to peruse Wen Fu occasionally, because the language is simple yet mystical while the ideas are straightforward yet metaphorical.   What fascinates me most about the work is that the principles it expresses are eternal and universal.   The underlying principles that guided Lu Chi’s art are the same ones that underlie ours nearly two thousand years later and in a society (and language!) that would have been completely alien to Lu Chi.  What’s more, Lu Chi describes the experience of writing from a very intimate standpoint to which any author who is passionate about his art could relate.

What are your thoughts?  What principles of writing are eternal and universal?  What do you see in the stanza above?

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