Runboard.com
You're welcome.
Community logo


runboard.com       Sign up (learn about it) | Sign in (lost password?)

 
pjouissance Profile
Live feed
Blog
Friends
Miscellaneous info



Reply | Quote
The Zhang Scrolls


THE ZHANG SCROLLS

     Note: The cache of scrolls translated below was unearthed in 2004 from the ruins of a large residence during an archaeological dig in the city of Xian (formerly, Changan), sponsored and executed by Beijing University.

     Tests confirm that the most likely period of origination was the beginning of the fourth century, during the Sixteen Kingdoms Period. Several more scrolls of the same period were unreconstructable as they had been severely damaged by moisture. The remaining nine scrolls are presented below in roughly chronological order, ranging over a period of about sixty years, and tell of Zhang’s youth as a monk, his marriage, life as a fisherman, and his final years as a recluse.

     All that is known of the poet is his signature, Lao Zhang (Old Zhang), though many unverified facts of his life are discussed in the scrolls. The Xiongnu were warriors who used heavy cavalry and swept through the Yang-Tze Valley in central China about 304 A.D., firing a number of villages and killing thousands. Dongting Lake still supports many fishing families. Lu Mountain is still a place of pilgrimage and retreat in modern Jiangsi Province.

     The Tian Shan range is a Himalayan spur which lies along the borders of China and Kazakhstan and Kirgyzstan in the modern province of Xinjiang. It would have taken at least a month of traveling to reach it from Lake Dongting.

__________________________________________________________

FIRST SCROLL

In Reclusion

Immured in this cliffside cave,
watching the path down Lu Mountain
which brings the village woman
who cooks my barley and greens,
I remember my promises to her:
equanimity, long life.

On clear nights I go mad,
snatch up my flute and rush
outside to the precipice
and dance, a grinning
skeleton. So far
my balance is good.

During the day I chant and pray,
and watch vultures. When
the sun grows high I wait
for her, but it’s pointless, she’s married,
and I’m a monk, a filthy one at that.
One hundred thousand prostrations
to Wenshu—but the woman—real—


SECOND SCROLL

My Innermost Thoughts

It won't last long, this state
of intense intoxication—
And what do I find? What are
my innermost thoughts? May I explain

that my thoughts are like the green
silk of Changan? I think of you.
The silk flutters over your shoulders.
I am twenty-eight, a man. Please accept my poem.


THIRD SCROLL

Leaving Lu Mountain

Wild clarity. I seized her
and she did not protest.
My unread poem fell from
her apron. Blind in the sun

I settled my body on hers.
When she swung down the rocky path
later, saying nothing, braid untied,
I struck the walls with my fists.

Would she tell? No longer a monk
I climbed down Lushan with my flute.
Pines began to line the path,
and low stone walls.

I looked up, but mist flowed
along the pale cliff. Where
did she live? What did it matter?
Then the hot tears fell.


FOURTH SCROLL

We Leave for Lake Dongting

She was sent to keep house for a relative
far away in Luoyang, selling spring bulbs,
but I found her soon after the New Year.
I knew her husband had divorced her,
so she was honest.

At the flower market, she spoke shyly to me,
standing so close, I began to think about what
I had done to her on Lushan, and wanted to do
again. She saw this, and turned as if as if
to disappear with the crowd, but I caught her arm—
 
she buried her face in my shoulder—my neck—
I told her that I was going to marry her. When
she said, “Maybe, we’ll see,” swinging her braid,
I was happy. Next day, we drifted like white clouds
toward Lake Dongting. We settled there and fished.


FIFTH SCROLL

Unexpected Happiness

My only love, when you lie
drowsy beside me in gray dawn,
vanquisher of loneliness,
black-eyed giver of meaning,

when you bend to wash your face,
smooth your hand over your round belly,
catch me looking, I am seized
by an agony of need, to keep
 
you by me forever, against all
change. The first spring rays bring clucks
from the hen-yard. "Stupid", you tell me,
smiling at my fears, and go looking for eggs.

When you bring our lunch
and we sit on the greening slope
along the water, I often dare to hope
that Buddha is wrong, that happiness

may outweigh suffering. This worrying
over you—you jump up as lake-gulls
dive and disturb my nets. Steady,
laughing, you chase them all away.


SIXTH SCROLL

The Body of My Wife

As I think back on it now—our happiness
I recall the winter birth as something fantastically
sublime, far more sublime than the fierce deities
I had visualized during my years of retreat—

my son attached me invincibly to earth.
My wife's enemy was a mere first husband
who could be clubbed with the knobbed stick
I kept beside our bed. He never came,

but that year my own enemies came, the
deities who once were my protectors—because
I had broken my vows. With the Xiongnu
they came, iron-armored on their horses,

with gnashing teeth and bulging eyes, and wielded
their swords up and down our rural valley,
the sound of galloping muting the dull
impacts of the swords, the shouts and screams—

rain, rain, yet the sky lit itself
orange as our cottages burned—
they came, the ones Padmasambhava
tamed, bloodthirsty, wreakers of revenge,

demons ripping through the veil of night
and chased down and cruelly killed my wife.
What was left

then? Nothing was left
then, except a duty to my infant son.


SEVENTH SCROLL

Drunk

Grieving, I go to her hillside grave.
For my son, I remarry. My new wife
asks me not to drink. I drink
as though this pain could be contained—

amnesia is what I seek. One day
my old abbott appears at my door.
"What did you expect?" he asks
reasonably. I throw him out, pull out my jug
 
and drink into insensibility. My son—
I watch him, my eyes hooded, drunk.
He grows tall as bamboo; his disgust for me
matters not at all. I bring home food

and pay his tuition. He goes much further
than I ever did—accepts the summons
to some warlord's court. His future
assured, he becomes an honorable official.

Then she and I and the fish are alone—
she doesn't love me—cold winds sweep across
the lake while I try to roll, roll, capsize—
very funny, boat and man, both tipsy!

At the beginning of winter, I said, "Consider
me dead—d'you understand? I am going away
to find something clumsy and real. Take
the cottage for your wage, it is over."
The woman took her share and set me free.


EIGHTH SCROLL

I Begin to Write

My birth, in a distant village by a reedy river,
is of no interest. The same is true of my family
and my occupation. I retired ten years ago

to the Tian Shan range, far west in Xinjiang,
and built Spring Hut above apple and walnut orchards.
My loved one died young, and I have gradually

become accustomed to my solitude. I occupy
myself with my studies, my daily chores, drinking wine
with other hermits when they brave the climb.

This body likes to rise early, likes the smell of wood
fire, likes feeding the goat and milking her, the scented
spruce. What else? I sometimes have thoughts, which fly

into my head, which I try to force from my brush—
about the changing splendor through my doorway—
about her waist—how small it was.


NINTH SCROLL

Season of Fruit

One day in mid-summer, a rich man is carried
up the path to Spring Hut, a lady’s carriage behind.
His porters set their loads down in the yard
and he comes to my hut, dressed in silk

in a high black hat, carrying a carved staff.
Confused, I fall back into the shadows
until he says, “Father?” and bows deeply.

“What is this nonsense?” I answer. “Go away.”
“It is a long hot trip,” he says mildly.
He helps her from the carriage, a young woman
with eyebrows like raven’s wings. “My wife,

Zhang Peiman,” he says. “She requested that
we come here, to ask for your blessings.” His men
are already setting out a meal. I take hold

of his sleeve, pull his face down to mine, and find
my wife’s eyes, as though she never died.
Then my grandchildren bow. The little girl’s
braid swings when she sees my flute—soon

it’s at her lips, her own mother listening, gazing
below at the fruiting orchards, soft in valley haze.
I close my eyes. A young monk once piped this song,
capering under burning stars, on Lu Mountain—
 


COLOPHON: THE ZHANG SCROLLS

 Note: This colophon was found in the lower left of Scroll 9, and exhibits much smaller brushwork than Lao Zhang’s.

Signed by Lady Zhang Peiman in the Year of the Waterhorse (770 A.D.):

My grandmother presented these scrolls to me on the occasion of my betrothal, and I will try to take good care of them. They have been in our family for centuries, and I feel very honored. I see in Lao Zhang many of our family traits, such as a love of the brush and of very plain description. I admire him and hope to write also. My esteemed ancestor Lao Zhang lived to the age of seventy-seven.




END OF ZHANG SCROLLS




Last edited by pjouissance, Apr/25/2010, 1:41 pm
Apr/25/2010, 12:10 pm Link to this post Send Email to pjouissance   Send PM to pjouissance
 
Christine98 Profile
Live feed
Blog
Friends
Miscellaneous info



Reply | Quote
Re: The Zhang Scrolls


Auto,

This is spell-binding. I can't tell if it's "real" or some beautifully executed vision of a life. What sparked it? What's real and what's imagined?

Chris
Apr/26/2010, 4:49 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
pjouissance Profile
Live feed
Blog
Friends
Miscellaneous info



Reply | Quote
Re: The Zhang Scrolls


Hi, Christine,

Thanks for reading. I wrote it a while back but it's long and I was hoping to find a big open space to post it so I could see what I could do better with it before I lost track of it completely. Ateliers is perfect and I'm grateful for the space.

I'm interested in ancient Chinese poetry and had read enough to want to try a narrative poem. The details are as accurate as I could make them. If you have any thoughts on improvement I'd appreciate them. Or if this just sits here while I think about what to do with it/change it, that's fine too.

Thanks again,

Pam
Apr/26/2010, 6:24 pm Link to this post Send Email to pjouissance   Send PM to pjouissance
 
Christine98 Profile
Live feed
Blog
Friends
Miscellaneous info



Reply | Quote
Re: The Zhang Scrolls


hi Auto,

Don't know much about Chinese poetry, ancient or otherwise, but these jarred a bit:

"the greening slope," and "fruiting orchard."

Lovely but don't conform to my notion of the elegant, lean simplicity of Chinese styling. These descriptions are lusher, more indulgent feeling. But again, don't know much...

This is a fine place to lay out a work in progress and take a long, leisurely look.

Chris
Apr/26/2010, 7:44 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
pjouissance Profile
Live feed
Blog
Friends
Miscellaneous info



Reply | Quote
Re: The Zhang Scrolls


Thanks, Christine,

You're probably right about those phrases. Appreciate your having a look, and again, I appreciate being able to post this for that leisurely look.

Auto
Apr/26/2010, 8:00 pm Link to this post Send Email to pjouissance   Send PM to pjouissance
 
Terreson Profile
Live feed
Blog
Friends
Miscellaneous info



Reply | Quote
Re: The Zhang Scrolls


What fun! Thanks much for the posting, Auto. I'll come to it over the weekend.

Tere
Apr/28/2010, 8:10 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
Live feed
Blog
Friends
Miscellaneous info



Reply | Quote
Re: The Zhang Scrolls


Hi Auto,

I am not very familiar with Chinese poetry, but I was put in mind right away with Pound's The River Merchant's Wife, a poem I've always liked. This reads well in terms of language, tone, rhythm and voice--no small feat! I think you have done a good job capturing and holding the reader's attention throughout the piece.

The only place I stumbled was here:

"I am going away/
to find something clumsy and real."

The use of "clumsy and real" felt out of character to me. The word "real" was used earlier in the poem and I thought it worked there:

"One hundred thousand prostrations
to Wenshu—but the woman—real—"

In "The Body of My Wife" section, I liked the way the real enemies as well as the inner and out demons all get woven together. I also liked the way the ending added another layer of history and ancestory to the poem.

Well done, Auto. I enjoyed the read.

 


   
Apr/30/2010, 1:31 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
pjouissance Profile
Live feed
Blog
Friends
Miscellaneous info



Reply | Quote
Re: The Zhang Scrolls


Hi, Katlin,

Ugh, you are so right about "clumsy and real." It does stick out and is arty.

I'm soooo glad I haven't read the Pound poem. I'm sure I wouldn't have written this if I had.

Thanks for your comment,

Auto
Apr/30/2010, 5:51 pm Link to this post Send Email to pjouissance   Send PM to pjouissance
 
Katlin Profile
Live feed
Blog
Friends
Miscellaneous info



Reply | Quote
Re: The Zhang Scrolls


I'm soooo glad I haven't read the Pound poem. I'm sure I wouldn't have written this if I had.

Nah, since you are familiar with Chinese poetry, you would have. Pound's poem is told from the perspective of a female narrator and is much shorter and less complex than yours. As I said, I only thought of Pound's poem because I am not familiar with Chinese poetry, so I didn't have the same reference point that you do.
Apr/30/2010, 10:24 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 


Add a reply





You are not logged in (login)