Most of the kanji we practice in my shodo society comes from Chinese poetry. Sometimes it’s obscure and indecipherable, others it’s pretty straightforward. Most of the time, I just write it and try hard to make it pretty. Hey, that’s the idea, right? But this month, I looked into the origins.
This month is from a poet called Bai Juyi (sometimes pronounced Bo Juyi) , a governor and bureaucrat in China back in the 800’s during the Tang Dynasty. He’s apparently known for writing poetry about regular daily life, and his work was very approachable.
Bai Juyi started his political life in the middle of a pretty intense period. It reads like a political thriller. Warlords were getting decapitated. There was murder in the streets. Upheaval. You get the idea. He started out his career in Chang An (same as in the title of the poem), which was the political capital at the time, currently Xi’an. Bai Juyi was a minor cog in the massive bureaucracy at the time (which means he was of course well educated) but apparently really idealistic. He got himself into trouble by writing politically incorrect stuff, like how the average peasant suffered, while the rich get richer. This got him exiled. Perhaps this is why his poetry was approachable and were often reflections on everyday life.
The four kanji in my submission (at the bottom of this post) read literally “wind – blows – new – green” which, on it’s own doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. It comes from a poem called , Reflections of an Early Spring Journey in ChangAn (my translation). The quote comes from the fifth line which roughly translates as wind sighs among the new green buds.
This is fine in and of itself, but I kind of wanted to know what the whole poem is about. Is it all about wind in the buds?
A rough translation would go something like this.
- Songs of passing cars on the wind in the noisy city
- Amid all of this a person stands alone in the corner
- Rolling up reeds under the moon in sorrow
- In the sunset, I long for the mountains of my home and shed tears
- Wind sighs among the new green buds
- Rain falls and wets the willow leaves
- I know the burden of this young boy’s spring
- Will he reach thirty years with a knitted brow
The poem really isn’t about green buds at all. It’s about longing and empathy. I can kind of see why Bai Juyi was popular.