Wally Swist

After Lu Chi’s Wen Fu Based on a translation by Shih-Hsiang Chen, in 1952, and then modified after consulting a translation by Sam Hamill, 1991 & 2000. Preface Should you study the masters and their work observe the essential action of their minds Their aptitude with expression how they energetically instill their words. Are all results they can attain through innumerable ways. However, what is aesthetic can be made distinct from what is ordinary, what is superior from what is only adequate. Only through the heat of writing, and then the work of revising and revising can anyone gain the cutting-edge of discernment. We can be overly concerned if our ideas do not distinguish their subjects, whether form and content are harmonious. All of this may be far too easy to begin to know; but what is puzzling is to make this practice. What is composed here is meant to be in harmony with the heart and the ear, the mind and the soul; What is Wen Fu, the art of writing, finding exemplars for exploration of what is good and bad in writing. Maybe it will be made known that one day we might write something substantive, Even something useful, even entering upon the origin of a mystery. If you carve the handle of an axe with an axe, ostensibly the archetype is made visible. Everyone who writes discovers a new threshold into what is secret, what is not easy to explain. Nevertheless, what is set down here is clearly thought as thinking can be sheer. 1. Initial Movement Each writer is their own point at the center of their universe, scrutinizing riddle and paradox. Each are nurtured by their discoveries of past masterpieces. Each studies the four seasons, in their rapidity, they sigh Perceiving how all things are one; learning the limitlessness of the world. Each experiences leaves blown away by the autumn winds; Each esteems the innumerable blossoms of spring. The first frosts of autumn sends a shiver up the spine and through the heart; The clouds of summer inspire the spirit to rise as they pass in the sky. Memorize the classics; pay homage to the clarity of the virtuous masters. Prospect the treasure in the classics that speak to you; where form and content originate. Moved as such, then lay aside your books, take pen in hand to begin to compose. 2. Starting Out We listen, eyes closed, to the music that is within, aswirl in thought we make inquiry; Our spirit soars to the universe’s eight corners, mind roaming thousands of miles away; When only the inner voice becomes clear, in proportion, with each numinous object. It is then what issues are the quintessence of words; and, in this, we revel in this sweetness. This resembles drifting on heaven’s lake, or plunging into a deep sea. What we surface with words that are alive, fish hooked by the gills, flipping on our deck. These words are hauled as is a luminous bird on a string amid passing clouds. What we do is to gather whatever words are unused from writers of previous generations. Such melody is such that it hasn’t been heard for at least a thousand years. The flowers this morning will open; shortly, the same buds will close upon nightfall. The past fuses with the present— perpetuity appears in the blink of an eye! 3. Selecting Words Making thought cogent, clarifying our ideas, we precipitate our word choice. Every word chosen scrupulously, each word fits best as a beam does, tongue in groove. Thoughts flickering on the periphery are reigned into reason’s natural light; we chart the sources of echoes. This is similar to locating the leaf on a trembling branch, finding the stream’s source at the spring. Each writer illuminates what is dark, even if this entails making what is simple difficult, or what is difficult easy. Thus, the tiger’s roar may quiet those who hear it; the dragon’s thunder startle flocks of birds, in waves of terror. Our skill in writing, sometimes the road is level and speedy; other times craggy and dizzying. Still the inky waters of the heart; gather profound thoughts from what are the accurate names of everything. Sky and earth are caught in ostensible form; all these things appear from whatever writing implement we choose. What is the truth but the trunk of the tree; a stylist makes the foliate beautiful. Never think emotion and reason are one: each nuanced feeling must be read with scrutiny. Discover veritable joy, easily find laughter; in heartache, distinguish each moan. Often enough, the words will come without exhortation; other times, we sit amid the silence biting down on our pencil. 4. The Contentment The satisfaction a writer experiences is the gratification of the savant. From nothing, existence itself dawns; out of what is silent, a writer creates song. In a yard of silk, we discover infinite space; language can be a torrent, even from the smallest part of the heart. A net of images can be cast ever wider; our thinking can search rocky crevasses more cogently. Each writer can suggest what fragrance fresh flowers offer, just what is abundant in new buds.
Colorful wind can raise every metaphor; intoxicating clouds hover over a glade of pens, in a cup. 5. Classification of Genres Any text may take any of a thousand forms, especially since there are no correct measurements. Modifying, always modifying, at the whisk of a hand, the variety of form is nearly not possible to master. A word or a phrase may contend with each other; however, mind is what manages. Stuck between what is uncreated and what exists, whatever the writer perseveres is a struggle, regarding what is impenetrable and what is plain. How easily we divert from either the square or the circle, seeking the ultimate reality. What constitutes great writing grows with splendor in the reader’s eyes, gives clarity to values. Anyone whose language is jumbled can’t accomplish the task; only in a crystalline mind can language be sublime. The lyric [shih] expresses inviolate emotion, weaving a tapestry. Stylized prose [fu] depicts its subjects with utter clarity. Inscriptions [pei] must always be written with sheer simplicity. Elegies [lei] hold so many knotted webs of grief their tones must be kept plaintive. Mnemonic poems [ming] must be lucid, but also expectant with meaning. Admonitions [chen] slice against the grain; therefore, the need to be written effortlessly. Eulogies [sung] offer praise; so, they must be demonstrative of equilibrium. The Treatise [lun] must be subdued; their lacquer must shine. Memorials [tsou] are plain, precipitate stillness, but exhibit an elegant polish. The Discourse [tsou] should be filled with shrewdness and luminosity. However much each form is quite different, each one is in opposition to what is evil, not one enables one license as a writer. Language must present itself from what is essential in voicing reason: verbosity itself is an absence of respectability. 6. On Harmony Every composition contains an especial quality; but only by using various forms and revisions is the art of subtlety learned through endeavor. Ideals are integral to an existence that is harmonious; one among many, through language that is both aesthetic and veritable. Assonance, and the use of music, commingles as does the five colors of embroidery— each one amplifying the other. However true it is that emotions are often enough arbitrary, indulgence itself is self-abnegating. Recognizing structure opens the floodgates of a dam in a big river. The insolence of ignorance is similar to yanking at the tail of a dragon in order to ward off its head. 7. The Key Although the language might be exquisite and the premise equitable, the ideas themselves can be insignificant. Whatever you seek to continue must not cease; what has been completely originated is, itself, hardly a denouement. Amply, each sentence morphs and multiplies its growth from the well-inflected phrase. Prevent loquacious language, maintain order, otherwise, one revises further and further. 8. On Originality Mind creates an ornate weaving of threads; an elegant pictorial, with variegated foliage. Such a composition needs to move the heart, as does music emanating from the many strings of an instrument. There are really no new ideas— only those that segue with a kind of rhyme with various classics. The loom’s shuttle that operates in my heart runs as it has in all those that preceded me; perpetuating a similar warp and woof, out of which my fabric must be made anew. Wherever truth and virtue are undermined, I must relinquish even my most cherished jewels. 9. Shadow, Echo, and Jade Maybe, just maybe, but one single blossom from the entire bouquet will bud. Maybe, just maybe, just a single cornstalk might flourish in an entire field. Shadows cannot be constrained; echoes cannot be silenced. Inferior work is a disgrace— and, worse, it is obvious: music can’t be woven into it. When mind is imprisoned and disparate, spirit is peripatetic, everything is out of control. When a vein of jade is unveiled in the rock, there is a glimmering in the entire mountain. Images need to glisten as do pearls, in water. The thornbush that goes unpruned proliferates in illustrious brambles. Song that is common, sung to an inspired melody, is yet one more way we discover what is fine in beauty. 10. The Five Touchstones Music When the rhythms are loose, and lacks tradition (of any kind), the language of a poem stumbles. The poet peers into the silence to seek an ally; however, no one answers. The poet even calls out, and calls out again; still no one answers from the void. Heaven, itself, appears to be out of reach, so empty and vast. Thus, only a single note struck on a lute never makes for music that is beautiful. Harmony Where there is lassitude or immoderation in phrasing the music of the language is garish, in such ostentation no one can find beauty. Where what is beautiful merges with what is common, such writing suffers in its lack of beauty. Even a fleck of a blemish can mar the most attractive face— Which can be similar to hearing a shrill note from a lute resonate sharply in the courtyard, below. Anyone can make music but still be deficient of the grace of harmony. Unvarnished Emotion When a poet searches for a subject they may be drawn to the cryptic or the trifling, relinquishing common sense. The result will be that all words will be inept, they will replicate thought chatter so much so that they will deceive love. Similar to the slenderest strings of the lute, one must perceive music, harmony, in all that presents itself, but counters resolution. Even if played in tune, such music may be unsuccessful in its purpose. Restraint Often, harmony and rhythm can overwhelm the composition— especially since the poet is seduced by them. Or, so enrapt by the voice of the poet, a small crowd may offer a modicum of praise. Such a vainglorious situation blinds one with what is tawdry, an ostentatious tone is not suite to capricious sentiment. Similar to an untrained musician who drowns out their misplayed notes by playing quite loudly, Feelings that are false can lead to humiliation, even anyone listening becomes so embarrassed they become red in the face. Even practiced discernment of feeling doesn’t lead anywhere if there isn’t also accompanying refinement. Refinement Only when a poem refrains from confused emotion can perspective be brought to passion. However, even then the poem be more tedious than sacrificial porridge: sounding like stray notes played on broken strings. Acutely aware of technique, such a poem may be bereft of any seasoning— become what’s missing in the sauce of an unfinished entrée. Or, such a poem may even be just good enough for “one to sing, three to praise,” but still clearly be deficient of any grace. Finding Form Intuit when writing is best when it exemplifies depth and breadth, and when it may best shine, when compressed, cut with facets like gems. Realize the time to raise your eyes and when it is time to scrutinize. Acclimatize to things as they arise; only allow emotions to be sublime. Only when the language is simple must the image be exacting. However, when the thinking is awkward the language needs to flow fluidly. Worn clothes can always be mended; The brook we roil with mud suddenly flows clear, again. Only with our ardent eye and ear can we adequately create Such keen discernments process their alchemy. The very air stirred by the sleeves of the dancers makes a kind of music; The voices of singers lifts and drops with each note of song. A Wheelwright, P’ien, did attempt to describe it; although, he didn’t quite. Nor can a critic’s imitation flowers offer any explication. 12. The Masterpiece In placing guides to grammar and books regarding the use of language in my hands, I also clasp them to my heart and mind. Perceive what is and may not be just current fashion; Learn what past masters highly praised; Although wisdom originating from a subtle mind is often enough ridiculed by many people. The shining semiprecious gems of current popularity are as ordinary as field beans. However much writers of one’s own generation produce prolifically, Really, the actual jewels could not even half-fill a small cup I fashion with my fingers. As perpetual as space, itself, the finest work marries heaven to earth; And it is sourced from nothing, as is air flowing through a bellows. We all bear the weight of the bucket from the well, however, soon enough the bucket is emptied. Urging each word into song, every writer agonizes every note: Although nothing can be made perfect; not one poet can bear to be that smug. In hearing the laughter of a jade bell, we believe it mocks us. For any poet, there is dread in the soot. 13. The Dread Sometimes we can be concerned our pen runs out of ink, that the most apt words aren’t quarried. We want to answer each moment offering inspiration. So, labor with what is offered; all that passes won’t ever be delayed. All of it will move back into shadow— then disappear; what we remember resounds as an echo. Upon the return of spring, we may come to know the purpose of nature. Cogency arises from one’s center on a breeze, then languages, itself, detects its speaker. Buds gone past are new blossoms this morning that we paint on silk with a fine brush. Each eye becomes aware of a pattern; every ear hears such a faraway music. 14. Inspiration Time comes when feelings stifle, though every impetus requires an answer; Time comes when spirits stalls within itself. Such is a time a writer feels as dull as driftwood, dry as a dusty riverbed in a drought summer. Seeking an egress, explore the soul’s depths for a pneumatic ethos; Entreat, passionately, your inner being for vital signs. What is unlit within the mind lies concealed; Thoughts must be released as a child is from a mother’s womb, horrified and bawling. Coercing feelings precipitates misconception and creates more delusion; However, allowing them to arise naturally attributes to their becoming clearer. What is true about this resides within our very being, yet there isn’t a power on earth to compel it. Time and again, we search within us for an answer. Sometimes a portal briefly swings open; sometimes the lock to such a door remains jammed. 15. Coda Contemplate how letters are used.Principles such as this demand attention. Even if they journey more than a thousand miles,nothing in the world can impede their progress. They traversethose thousands of years, or more. Examine them one way,and they make future laws clear. Regard them another,and they serve as models from past masters. The aesthetic of language has rescued governmentsfrom destruction and cultivates morals.Through the use of letters, no roadcan prove to be too challenging to proceed upon; Also, there’s not one ideatoo bewildering to make clear. It arrives as does rain from storm clouds;it revivifies what is vital regarding spirit. Etched in marble and bronze,it pays homage to what is virtuous It breaks into song, as does a flute, and its plucked strings make every day new.