It was fascination the maybe eight or nine year old boy was touched with looking at those beautiful strange symbol characters he encountered for the very first time in the little missionary's magazine he used to carry out every month for his mother and grandma during the years after World War II: while reading the serialized adventures of young Lin Yutang during the battles between Mao Tse-tung's Red Army soldiers and the Kuomintang troops of general Chiang Kai-shek he also looked at the sometimes appearing far eastern style pictures of christian saints and nativity figures - but being still much more spellbound by those chinese characters now and then illustrating these drawings. Awkwardly he tried to copy their strange shapes in order to illustrate his own little pictures he painted - yet always being painfully aware of, that there were hidden thoughts and ideas behind the attracting outer shapes of these characters, whose mysterious puzzle he would not be able to decipher.
And the same fascination still then in the beginning seventies, urging on the junior lawyer, who was just about to take his second degree, making him 'sneak' into the far-eastern institute's language lab at Munich University and thus furtively - because he did not belong to the handful of sinology students there - having his very first experience now with the sound and melody of these characters so much admired by him (and in that moment being a 'bitter' disappointment - in an opposite sense similar perhaps to a man's situation, who for the first time looks into the face of a woman, until then having been his 'beloved voice' !). After having studied a whole string of languages (at least hungarian being asian origin) because of these mysterious characters he finally had turned toward the chinese language - a task a bit difficult at that time for a sinological outsider, especially in obtaining appropriate learning aids.
The doorway to chinese poetry was found late and rather incidentally: Standing in for a travel guide in China - it was immediately after the 'events' on Peking's Tiananmen place in early summer of 1989 - a chinese friend and expert on T'ang and Sung time poetry, suggested to translate (transfer) a small selection of poems from Sung dynasty into German and publish it together with the calligraphies done by him. (Unfortunately there were unexpected obstacles later to this cooperation...)
But now those 'traces of characters' in the end had begun to 'talk', telling from ancient times: for one, two thousand and more years enduring, had they kept their contents and messages. Midst of all the transitoriness of time, already deeply felt by the little boy, and the fading away of all beings they have held a faint touch of permanence, a shadow of duration.
They are 'traces' (hen2), connotating also 'scar', 'mark' (that is a loss of substance, an injury), 'telling' their story. In the very beginning of writing they were conditional on and created by the sole and deeply human endeavour to ask questions, existential questions of 'Where are we coming from?' and 'Where are we going to?' : Still primitive symbols, in ancient times carved into tortoise shells and oracle bones as 'questions' to the powers of fate - getting 'answers', read from the cracks the burning heat of fire had left on them. So from the beginning, chinese characters never had been mere means of communication between men, but - on an existential level - a connecting link to the divinity (or the ancestors) too. In this sense they still are taking effect in some way up to our time: as an early text or - like here - carrying poetical thoughts they have power and quality to bless their editors with a touch of shining reflection, the heavenly trace of immortality ...
'The life of men is like a dream in a butterfly's dream.' This metaphor - or similar versions of it - has been handed down from the Taoistic philosopher Chuang- tzu (Zhuangzi), who lived about the year 300 BC. Ever and ever this thought had moved people. referring to a passage in the work of Chuang-tzu as follows:
One day about sunset,
I dozed off and dreamed to be a butterfly - flapping my wings
and joyfully fluttering about I sure enough was a butterfly, completely forgetting that I
was Chuang-tzu. When all of a sudden awaken, I infact was Chuang-tzu again - but not
knowing now, wether it was me dreaming to be a butterfly or I was a butterfly
dreaming that he was Chuang-chou..
With chinese poetry there are infact 'traces of butterfly's dreams' coming down on us from long past times, awakening before our very eyes not only the ancient poets' personalities, long since deceased, to life again, but those also opening up to us with their innermost thoughts and secret emotions, and 'talking' to us. Not only are there the withered blossoms of a spring - long since passed more than one thousand years ago - once again dropping down, the 'mysterious-distant' scents of flowering plum trees, ever-freshly wafting through the ages into our days, the windblown leaf, the wild goose lonely crossing the sky, announcing the arrival of an autumn, that already long, long has perished. But it actually is not the fleeting 'white clowd', its existence having lasted just for moments, now again soaring in front of our eyes, not the cuckoo's calling, that already faded away in the drizzle of a distant june yet still reaching our ears: It's rather - and still less 'tangible' in a material sense - the highly subjective impressions and feelings of the poets respective with hearts vibrating under their touch like the strings of a harp humming in the wind. They are the 'traces' of Li T'ai- po's yearning for his fellow poet Hsieh T'iao, already gone from this world 300 years before. They are telling of the great T'ang poet's elementary sadness - since long fallen to dust himself - looking at all the bloom in the springtime's breeze, listening to the oriole, that warbles its song of youth without care for the passing of time, a sadness, felt uncompromising and unrestraint in a childlike sense, he only in delirious drunkenness could escape from for a short space of time. We are sharing the deeply personal intimacy of his lonesome nights of booze, the never appeased longing to overcome his life's transitoriness - and so was the feeling of many others, who had left us the 'traces of their dreams': the 'drunken' Li, in a pessimistic way seeing clearly, infact regarded his art of poetry being the one and only way to perhaps getting a slight touch of immortality. Others - e.g. the Sung time general and poet Wen T'ien-hsiang - drew hope and confidence from the noble ethical principles of Confucianism - the virtues of a 'pure heart'. On the other hand, there were others trusting in the Taoists' methods of 'alchemy', and so many striving for the complete cessation of being in the sense of Buddha's teaching, for release from earthly existence.
The 'traces' of chinese character's real miracle have been left by the human spirit and nature touching and penetrating one another, by the power of imagination - that is the capability to create images - with the 'ten thousand things' (wan wu) of the world surrounding us: Man, having perceived the 'concrete' reality with his mind, transformed it and gave it back as a cipher, a symbol or pictograph; the concrete being spiritualized, and concretized the 'spiritual' - the spiritual-volatile, live part of human existence thus obtaining from nature a kind of duration.
Like nature and human spirit joining each other, also the contents of thinking, 'incorporated' in poetry, so to speak rest firmly in the vessel of 'concrete' creation. Most contents of ancient chinese poems on the surface may seem to be 'mere' poetry of nature for a westerner, that - compared with his western poetry dealing with the so-called 'existential' problems of men - depict charming but more or less insignificant idyllic scenes, hardly able to touch him at first glance as e.g. the dramatic art of poets like Goethe or Schiller once did back in his school days, and even the tasteful-lucid pensiveness of Conrad Ferdinand Meyer's stanzas. Yet this appearance is deceptive! For, when nature is talking to us from chinese poetry - and so she does very, very often - there always will be the human too and having his say. Basically there are the same 'eternal' questions of mankind their topics are revolving around like in western poetry: love and hatred, joy and sorrow, honour and duty, gain and loss, struggle and reconciliation, departure to foreign parts and homecoming, separation and reunion - being and cessation ...
Whereas the poetical way to deal with and express those questions is quite different, the reason for this probably lies in a perception of the world, an outlook on life in principle divergent from our 'Weltanschauung'. Due to the principles of Taoism chinese thinking is not constrained to decide one way or the other, is not captivated by our western 'binary-abstract' system of logic, but is all-embracing and concrete. Neither is 'Yin and Yang' an abstract principle nor two 'things' separated from one another, but e.g. a hill or mountain with one side in the shade (Yin) and the other side in the sun (Yang), a coin with its front side and its reverse, a magnet's opposite terminals etc.. The 'ten thousands things' (wan wu) of universe are not separately from each other existing, independent 'things-events' (Alan Watts), but a unity of constituent parts, organically connected to each other (better: intertwined or grown into one). Nature in its intirety and men too have share in it. No 'part' can be removed or replaced (in a mechanistic sense) without changing the whole. Each and every one only in its relationship with all the others can be, what it actually is. There is need for the most minute thing, the wavering butterfly, a plum twig's delicate reflection on the calm mirror of a pond, the thought or feeling caused by the falling of a leaf, the autumn wind's rustle through the pine trees or the tone of a distant melody, to make the 'whole' to be what it is. Man and nature live through the light of the sun. The moon, the stars participate in earth and her events. But on the other hand, the sun too would not be light without our eyes, the mountain not a mountain without our looking at it - would not be high without our foot. The entire universe does not exist without us being aware of it. This is 'hsiang sheng', the 'mutual creation', described in the great book of Taoism, the 'Tao Te Ching' e.g. with the lines:
Being and not being
arise from each other,
Heavy and light are conditional to each other,
Long and short are measuring each other,
High and deep are forcing each other.
Voice goes in tune with many more,
An 'after' follows a 'before'.
Of course, man is not a tree or a mountain - just as a hand is not a foot and a heart not a liver - but natural part of creation in its entirety, and organical connected to it. Understanding things this way, why should nature in its emanations, its 'image', not be capable to reflect the states of men's being in a very, very subtle way, as there also the third great philosophy on life in China, Buddhism, elucidates this multidimensional interdependance using the aphorism:
Pick up a blade of grass and all the worlds will come along with it!With this understanding of an all comprising unity also time is no longer excluded as an abstract-linear unit, but - in unification and pervasion with space - is obtaining its proper quality: inseparably - also in an intellectual meaning - connected and unified with creation, time has undergone a 'deflection in space', thus getting a cyclic structure. Through this unification into a specific nature the antagonistic poles of persistence and passing are reconciled with each other in 'eternal' recurrence - and also the individual in his transitoriness finding consolation in nature.
The lead of nature in ancient chinese poetry moreover maybe derives from the fact, that in Confucianism men were afraid of to express their emotions and thoughts in a straight and unsublimated way. Through the medium of unemotional-quiet nature, and using 'non-personal' metaphors, they are able to talk about themselves in a very, very subtle manner. In addition, the special quality of the chinese language, especially the 'classical' written language and its unique and specific characters, best suited for doing this. Without any endings or flexions, the components of language and writing, unconnected within a sentence, do they not bear any relationship to one another - rather reminding of a handful of bright coloured pebbles and small roots, casually picked up outdoors and perhaps put into an order appearing meaningful to their collector, than of structured 'webs of thoughts' created by man: The person of the poet proper, the poetry's subject hardly ever are expressed by grammar, implied at most by context, reference seems to be casual and rather to be grasped by intuition than fixed grammatically. The specific features of ancient chinese language thus grant the opportunity, the poet quasi-withdrawing his own person from his work into a sort of naturelike 'anonymity' and forming the poetical contents all the more subtle and many-faceted, that - similar to a multidimensional picture puzzle or kaleidoscope - with the various allusions and overlappings of their blur-shaped components, colours and 'valences', as it seems all by themselves, appear in the viewer's eye according to his angle respective in many different, continiously altering forms.
Well, then now here is a small selection of poems, limited to chinese Sung dynasty, the poets and works of which are much less known by westerners than those of T'ang and in our opinion haven't yet been translated into German to that extent. It is a series of attempts - not completely failed, as we may hope - to approach to the contents of poetical chinese texts, deliberately choosing only original poems, that up to now seemingly not yet have taken shape in a western language. As indicated already, due to the specific linguistic quality of the chinese originals they, strictly speaking, cannot be rendered into another language, at least not a western one: the 'loss' is tremendous! Trying to totally avoid this, would in the best come down to get a mere descriptive text as a result, but never could convey 'poetry', if at all being able to make those strings resound in us, the vibrations of which already might have taken effect on the long gone poets' souls. It was unavoidable then to make one's choice from the numerous 'aspects' presenting themselves, when those 'shining pebbles' so to speak were turned about as though looking at them from each side, thus maybe many a charming view left hidden, many a hue, a 'valeur' of colour getting lost. At the same time it was necessary to add explanatory notes - hopefully not being too fatiguing for the reader - in order to make visible the contents of meaning, the many allusions and contextual references, that otherwise would have remained concealed. Knowing the translations' deficiencies and holding the original poems in high estimation made consider it appropriate to have those 'traces of the gone poets' dreams' available for readers interested in linguistic in a separate section, to be found there also listings of the chinese-german vocabulary respective. In a further appendix then at least were to give some indications regarding the modern pronunciation of the original poems (next to the character text also available in Wade-Giles transcription) showing some common systems of transscription used in this anthology e.g. in the notes' text. Last but not least - and this goes without saying - the 'vitae' and particulars of the poets' lives (as far they are known) had to be presented in brief summary. Even though among them there is not a 'immortal' like Li T'ai-po or a 'saint' like Tu Fu, whose high repute also has reached the western world, their names however have not been forgotten in today's China, their 'songs' not yet died away. Regardless of their repute respective as an official, statesman, general or a sage, retired in self-restraint or even poverty, across thousand and more years they still have something to tell with their 'bequest' left on us, are their 'traces of life' still worth to be noticed, worth winning our recognition here in the western world.
B., in January 1992
A. W. Tueting (Tüting)
Now, some years later, I decided to publish this very special task no longer on paper but by a new fascinating medium, the World Wide Web - a light, volatile and ethereal stuff, maybe dreams could be made of, making thoughts and perhaps feelings or even these 'Traces of Butterfly's Dreams' fly around the globe in order to reach those not to many people of today as well dealing with chinese language and characters as also loving poems and poets (and - sorry - understanding a bit of german too).
Once more it took quite a lot of time and effort to take all my writing to the pages, creating and adding to it my 'homemade' graphics... (after having read quite a couple of books on html, web-graphics etc.) This time I had to spend still more hours in front of my computer (Macintosh Performa 6400/200) instead of riding my chopper across the beautiful landscape of Bavaria, admiring the soft colors of Tuscany or suffering in the dump heats at the Indian Ocean's beaches of Kenya, as I did when transfering the Sung lyrics into my mothertongue. But anyway, I was deeply interested - and that's it: A new, still unknown matter challenging me ... as so often before!
Finally, although my homepage being still a bit 'under construction', I decided (and indeed managed!) to upload it to Compuserve server, where now there is - up to my anthology's capacity - enough space available to perhaps add some (much?) more chinese brushwritings as I intended to do from the very beginning... (see above). So I' m glad to invite you to please provide me with chinese brushwritings - any style you like - of those 32 Sung poems (or eventually others too) to be published in my page. Any kind of contribution will be appreciated.
At last, I want to thank Kris Coppieters whose software TextToHTML I initially used tranferring my texts into HTML-code and Marius Deak from Bucharest/Romania, whose nice animated GIF-graphic 'aninew.gif' I dared to 'borrow' as until now I didn't have the skill to create my own spinning graphic: Atunci, multumesc frumos, draga Marius spre Bucuresti, pagina ta m-a placut foarte bine! (Am fost si eu odata in orasul tau - câteva decennii au trecut deja - si am gasit acolo prieteni buni - si înca prietene!)
B., January 1997
B., in January 1998