The Luminous Landscape: Chinese Art and Poetry – Richard Lewis (Editor)


Autumn is beginning, the weather is turning chill.
Crickets move in to sing under my bed.
A thousand things surge into my mind
And grieve my heart.
A thousand tales search for words;
But to whom will they be told?
Ruan Ji (210–263)

Shen Quan, “Birds and Flowers – Dragonfly on Wisteria”

This is a short yet fine collection of Chinese art and poetry that, regardless of the period, gracefully conveys the profound bond between nature and the human perception of it; the relationship between the essence of every element that constitutes a landscape and human nature.

The mountain moon shines on a cloudless sky.
Deep in the night the wind rises among the pines.
I wish to weave my thoughts into a song for my jade lute,
But the pine wind never ceases blowing.
Zhu Yi-zun (1629–1709)

This book introduces us to the work of numerous Chinese poets who captured the spirit of every one of the elements mentioned above and transformed them into evocative poems capable of portraying the countless shades of our nature, which usually involves a sense of longing that only sees infinity.

I must endure the sorrow of leaving these
green mountains,
But can I forget their blue streams?
Wang Wei (701- 761)

Mu Xi, “Eight Views of Hsiao Hsiang.”

The contemplation of an ethereal scenery as our own introspection evolves in complete harmony. The subtle and vehement nuances of our mood. The affection for solitude personified by the imposing mountains engulfed by diaphanous clouds. The need to hear another sound beyond the echo of our own voice that barely disrupts the splendor of a pond. Someone to tell how sublime the lake whitened by the moon is. Yes, all the essentials and principles that are part of us..

For Three Days I Traveled Through Mountains;
When the Mountains Came to an End I Was Deeply Moved

Before my eyes, green mountains –
I have truly loved them.
Why not have their craggy heights before me every day?
But this morning, the curtain fell,
the mountains were swept away,
and I felt unhappy, as if I were saying goodbye
to a friend.
Yuan Zhongdao (1570–1624)

Those contrasting realities and other aspects of human life are also depicted through painting, and this collection includes several beauteous creations of Chinese artists that are exquisitely combined with the referred poems. As the editor states, art and poetry were often one entity, to the point of poems being inscribed on the paintings themselves. He summarizes that fact quite eloquently by quoting an old Chinese proverb: “A picture is a voiceless poem, a poem is a vocal picture.”
This collection wasn’t the one I intended to read, but since I still can’t find the book I wanted, I gave this one a try. And I’m glad I did. I found many voiceless poems interspersed with vocal pictures that transport the reader to the beautiful simplicity of nature, despite mountains made of concrete. A relaxing read to hold on to when one has to return to civilization.


…haze, mist, and the haunting spirits of the mountains are what human nature seeks, and yet can rarely find.
Guo Xi (1020–1090)


* The last painting is not from the book (via Tranquil Resonance)
** Update Jan 26, 17: I found the book I was looking for.


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