Jade Mountain carving illustrating the Gathering of Scholars at the Orchid Pavilion, 1790Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion (A Rhyming Poetry Translation) The Society February 4, 2019 Beauty, Culture, Poetry, Translation 11 Comments The Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion ( 蘭亭集序; Lántíngjí Xu), from the 4th century AD, is generally regarded as the greatest work of Chinese calligraphy. Although the Preface itself is not poetry, it introduces a set of poems and the Chinese language itself is especially poetic because of its repeated sounds, use of tones, and clear monosyllabic rhythm. Thus, this poetic translation has sought to capture the sense of poetry in the air. Learn more about the Preface’s history here. —Evan Mantyk, translator Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion by Wang Xizhi It is the ninth year of Emperor Mu of the Jin Dynasty’s reign, in the year of the Yin Water Ox, at the beginning of the third month (after April 20, 353 AD). We are all gathered at the Orchid Pavilion in Shanyin County, Guiji Commandery, for the Spring Purification Festival. The noblemen arrive this day in Spring, From old to young, amidst these lofty mountains, Amidst luxuriant bamboos such days bring, Where spotless water gurgles by like fountains Round the pavilion and reflecting sun. The guests send wine cups floating down the stream, And when the nearest wine cup’s floating’s done The guest must then compose and wine redeem. Although we lack a minstrel’s cheerful glow, A cup of wine and poetry suffice For letting conversation warmly flow. Today the sky is bright; the air is nice. A gentle breeze blows freely like our mirth. When looking up, the universe is vast; When looking down, abundance fills the earth Contentment greets the mind that wanders past A host of sights and sounds of pure delight. How wonderful to know joy’s greatest height! All men together live upon this earth And some of them will share their deepest dreams In private with a friend who seems of worth, While others recklessly pursue their schemes. And yet whatever choice one makes in life, Whether very sound or very rash, When something happy happens, joy is rife— But this, and youth too, lose to History’s dash. One becomes weary, losing heart, regretting; The joy is gone as quickly as a blink, A memory distant as a star that’s setting. All is ordained to turn to dust and sink. It’s been said, “Birth and death are both great days.” I sigh. How sadly on my mind this plays! When thinking on all those who’ve come before me, Their writings, their regrets, it’s then I’m left In sadness, though I know not why I should be. Of course, I know life’s gift is not death’s theft— To die when old is not like dying young. And yet when future people think of me, I’ll be the same as those who Time’s undone. How sad! And so, I’ve written faithfully The names of those who’re here, their poetry, For even though the times and trends will change, What we regret remains eternally The same, and you and I are not so strange. For those who read our words in future years, Perhaps, you too, will fight back swelling tears. An early Tang Dynasty copy of the Preface by Feng Chengsu The First Day of the New Year by Wang Anshi (1021-1086) Exploding fireworks resound __And one year fades away. Warm winds of Spring are flowing round; __Herb wine has come this way. A thousand doors, ten thousand houses __Shining in the sun. Replacing talismans* arouses; __Hands for peach wood run. *The new peach wood talisman was hung on the door to ward off troubles and evil spirits in the new year. Original 爆竹聲中一歲除 春風送暖入屠蘇 千門萬戶曈曈日 總把新桃換舊符 Bàozhú shēng zhōng yī suì chú chūnfēng sòng nuǎn rù túsū qiān mén wàn hù tóng tóng rì zǒng bǎ xīn táo huàn jiù fú NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets. NOTE TO POETS: The Society considers this page, where your poetry resides, to be your residence as well, where you may invite family, friends, and others to visit. Feel free to treat this page as your home and remove anyone here who disrespects you. Simply send an email to email@example.com. Put “Remove Comment” in the subject line and list which comments you would like removed. The Society does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments and reserves the right to remove any comments to maintain the decorum of this website and the integrity of the Society. Please see our Comments Policy here. CODEC News:Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window) 11 Responses J. Simon Harris February 4, 2019 Both of these are good. I found the Preface especially interesting, and I like the way you set the stage for it (placing us in the moment of history, as it were). The original was in prose? I like the idea of translating prose into poetry. I may try my hand at it myself, sometime. My favorite lines were: “For even though the times and trends will change, / What we regret remains eternally / The same, and you and I are not so strange.” What a perfectly succinct way to capture the timelessness of poetry. I love the enjambment of the words “The same”. Nicely done! Reply Evan Mantyk February 6, 2019 Mr. Harris, The original is entirely prose and had a somewhat mundane beginning that set the year and location, so I left that part in prose at the beginning and put it in italics like a prefatory note. A very literal translation can be found here: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Translation:Preface_to_the_Poems_Composed_at_the_Orchid_Pavilion The original is a very popular work and in theory it is because of the calligraphy, but I think the sentiments in it are actually quite profound as well, with resonances of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18. There is a powerful nexus of the meaning and art form that I think is exceptionally effective and hopefully I’ve caught a glimpse of that in this translation. Reply Joseph Charles MacKenzie February 4, 2019 Most admirable here is Mantyk’s ability to identify and then underscore through beautifully effective phraseology the most lyrical elements of the Preface in a manner worthy the finest productions of the language into which he has translated it. Boasting the oldest alphabet in continuous use, China is justifiably proud of her magnificent calligraphic tradition. Mantyk has done well to honor this art through the splendor of exquisite, lyric verse. Reply Evan Mantyk February 6, 2019 Thank you, Mr. MacKenzie! From an accomplished calligrapher like yourself those words are especially meaningful. Reply Sally Cook February 4, 2019 Dear Evan Making a delightful game composed of one beautiful setting, and using cups of wine as pawns to facilitate the making of a poem seems to me to illuminate the essence of the poetic spirit. You have made the antique immediate, and by doing so proved not only a connection between centuries, but the truth that the essence of poetry is joy, enhanced by knowledge and skill Thank you. Reply Evan Mantyk February 6, 2019 Thank you, Sally! I could not find a good translation of this work and so I set out to make one. Reply David Watt February 5, 2019 I regard it as a fine accomplishment to have translated the melodic ancient prose of ‘Preface..’ into modern classical poetry. The moment in time is captured as fresh as if it occurred yesterday. Reply Evan Mantyk February 6, 2019 Thank you, Mr. Watt. Yes, I feel we have our own meeting at the Orchid Pavilion right here at the Society of Classical Poets. Reply C.B. Anderson February 5, 2019 How fitting it is, Evan, that you posted this around the time of the Chinese New year. Auld lang syne indeed! Reading the Robert Burns poem, I found there to be some interesting parallels with the feelings brought to light in the preface, including the raising of cups. Beautifully executed. How wonderful it would be to throw a party such as the one described: Write a poem, or else be obligated to drink cups of wine (though in Scotland it would likely be whisky). Reply Evan Mantyk February 6, 2019 Indeed, Kip! You have nailed it. There is no coincidence on the timing, which coincided with the Chinese, or Lunar, New Year. Auld lang syne had not entered my mind, but you are absolutely right. The parallels are clearly there. Thank you for the connection. Reply C.B. Anderson February 6, 2019 A funny thing, Evan, is that I knew it was the Chinese New Year only because my wife works at a Montessori school attended by a number of Chinese pupils, and she insisted last night that we have Chinese take-out for dinner, which turned out well for everyone. 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