Growing People to People Connections

Guangzhou Garden, Bristol

Did you know that the city of Bristol has its own garden dedicated to expressing the connections between the people of Bristol and the people of the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou?  Neither did I! In this blog I will briefly introduce a short history of the fascinating city of Guangzhou but as quickly as possible get to the garden itself.

Guangzhou is a very appropriate city to be twinned with Bristol, because in history they were both once the trading capitals of their respective countries.  It was from Bristol that Atlantic sea journeys to West Africa and then the eastern seaboard of what became America started, with the voyage of John Cabot to Canada in 1497.  Tragically this maritime activity quickly developed into the Atlantic slave trade.  Modern Bristol has evolved as a vibrant, multi-cultural city which is the gateway to the west of England and Wales.  

Bristol Docks today

Moving to Guangzhou, I wouldn’t mind betting that all of you actually do know this city, but under the former name of ‘Canton’. Canton was the name given to Guangzhou by European traders, Portuguese explorers first arrived in the Guangzhou region in 1513.  By that time Guangzhou was already a thriving trade centre under Ming Dynasty rule.  From the Tang Dynasty onwards the city had been a vital part of the ‘Maritime Silk Road’ with sea-routes spinning out across south-east Asia as far as the Red Sea.  It was also a fabulously diverse, multi-cultural centre, home to traders and merchants from every part of Asia and Africa. 

 Tragically in the mid-nineteenth century, the ‘Opium Wars’ in which Britain fought to exploit and control trade with China, focused largely on this area. In the twentieth century Guangzhou became the hot-bed of revolution as first the Nationalists and then the Communists claimed the city for New China.  In the New China founded by the Communist Party in 1949 Guangzhou prospered, first as an industrial centre, and then from the 1980’s becoming one of the financial and trading hubs of China herself and then the world. In 2023, the gross domestic product (GDP) of the city of Guangzhou in China amounted to approximately 3.04 trillion yuan.

Guangzhou – a world trade hub

Now we can see the context for both cities, the idea of a partnership seems a natural step.  An agreement between the two cities was first signed in 2001. In 2013 this was expanded by the adoption of a Bilateral Agreement signed by the Councils of the two cities.  One of the outcomes of these agreements was the setting up of the West of England China Bureau with a mission to connect the people of Bristol and the South West of England with the people of China and in particular Bristol’s Sister City Guangzhou in Southern China. They work to encourage greater mutual understanding between the two countries.

The Guangzhou Garden is a horticultural expression of this partnership. Moreover it makes a statement not just about the connections between the peoples of the two cities, but connections between people and the natural environment, which we know from previous Blogs, are deep at the roots of both British and Chinese cultures. Both Peter Chmiel and Chin-Jung Chen of Grant Associates, Bath, wanted to design the Garden in ways that addressed issues of sustainability and eco-diversity, particularly in relation to urban planning. Some of you might know that since the year 2000 sustainable urban planning (sometimes called ‘green’ or ‘eco’ cities) has been an important focus in China.  The importance of the design concepts presented in the Guangzhou Garden can be seen by the fact that it won a Gold Medal and Best in Show at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Chin Jung-Chen, garden designer

Let’s take a tour of some of the features of the Guangzhou Garden. Just as in so many classical gardens I have seen in China, a pool of water is at the heart of the design.  Around the pool are ranged a variety of interesting shrubs and tree specimens, all with origins in China.  One particularly beautiful sample is the Dove or Handkerchief Tree, also known as a ‘Ghost Tree’ because in May they are covered in reddish purple-brown flowers with white bracts (bracts are small, modified leaves, that hang beneath a flower) and these flutter together mysteriously in the Spring breezes.  The tree originates from mountain forests in Northern Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, West Hubei and West Hunan provinces, but it is becoming rarer in the wild and actually red listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

A Ghost Tree

Another noteworthy tree in the Guangzhou Garden is the Dawn Redwood.  This tree has a perfectly symmetrical shape and soft feathery leaves.  It is a very ancient tree.  Fossilised versions of the tree have been found which are 150 million years old.  It grows extensively in Hubei Province in China.  This beautiful tree is especially spectacular in Autumn when the leaves turn russet and golden. Interestingly, it has been found out that the Dawn Redwood makes a perfect street tree, because it needs little water, tolerates poor soil and rids itself and the surrounding area of dirt and pollution when its leaves fall and decompose.  Coming soon to a roadside near you.

Dawn Redwood –
Metasequoia glyptostroboides 

Gardens are one of the treasures of Chinese history and culture. There is evidence of gardening stretching all the way back to the period of the Shang in China, (1600 to 1046 BCE). It was in the Han Dynasty (206-220 CE) that the idea grew of a garden as a place of rest and relaxation. Thereafter, each generation of Chinese history saw the development of new aesthetic ideas and forms of horticultural expression.

In the Sui Dynasty (581-618CE) and Tang Dynasties (618-907 CE), it became the fashion to introduce rocks, waterfalls and other mountain features into gardens, features which remain popular to this day. Emperor Kangxi of the Ming Dynasty (1386-1644) and Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) focused on the part structures played in garden design, decorating gardens with pagodas, little palaces and rooms for rest and contemplation.

If you visit the Chinese city of Suzhou I recommend a visit to the Humble Administrator’s Garden (拙政园) which is the largest garden in Suzhou and recognised as one of the four most famous gardens in China. This garden was constructed in 1509 during the Ming Dynasty and is a masterpiece of Ming Dynasty garden landscaping. The garden is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Humble Administrator’s Garden ( 拙政园), Suzhou

Sadly, such travel is not available to us all, in which case a visit to the Guangzhou Garden in Bristol will be perfect. I want to thank the Botanic Garden Curator Nicholas Wray for his generous help in writing this article. You can find out more about the Garden here : https://botanic-garden.bristol.ac.uk/. And as you potter around your very own garden patch of paradise next time, remember you are tending yet another source of deep connection between British and Chinese culture.

Two cultures rooted in a shared love of gardens

Let’s finish with a little Chinese poetry, written to celebrate gardens. There are many but these lines are by 林逋, Lin Bu (967-1028), a Northern Song poet.

众芳摇落独暄妍   

占尽风情向小园   

疏影横斜水清浅   

暗香浮动月黄昏   

霜禽欲下先偷眼   

粉蝶如知合断魂 

This is the flower that shows us springtime beauty,

When the others have wobbled and fallen.

It’s the reason we love this small garden.   

Its thin shadows slant across the clear, shallow water,

Its hidden fragrance floats beneath the yellow moon.

A snow-white bird steals a look before landing.

If the pink butterflies knew it was here, their hearts should break.

( Translation by Jean Yuan, 2021)

The Festival of Pure Brightness

清明上河圖, Qīngmíng Shànghé Tú,
‘Going along the river during Qing Ming’.

Currently there is a cultural event in China, which the people themselves call 清明, which is put into the westernised pinyin as ‘Qing Ming’. The English translation for this is ‘Pure Brightness’. In this article I will start by introducing some common features of the festival, discuss some similarities with western traditions and then go on to discuss a very famous Chinese painting based around the festival called, 清明上河圖, pinyin: Qīngmíng Shànghé Tú, ‘Going along the river during Qing Ming’.

Like many festivals in China, the origins seem to lie in a mix of history and the environment. One explanation for ‘Qing Ming’ is that it is a memory of China’s agricultural past, because in ancient times this time of year saw a ‘clear and bright’ breeze -a ‘Qing Ming’ that blew over China from the south-west, driving away the cold air, allowing temperatures to rise and rainfall to increase, starting the growing season for new crops. In other Blogs I’ve explained that the solar or agricultural year still plays a prominent role in Chinese culture.

For the historical account we have to go back to the Zhou Dynasty in the 6th century BCE. The story concerns a noble man called Jiè Zhītuī who saved the life of his leader, Prince Wen, seemingly by cutting a piece of flesh from his thigh and serving it in a soup for the starving Prince. Things took a tragic turn when the Prince ordered Jiè Zhītuī to come to court and serve him there. Refusing the royal command Jiè Zhītuī, returned to his home in the Mianshan mountains.

Desperate for Jiè Zhītuī’s help the Prince set fire to the mountain vegetation to drive Jiè Zhītuī out, but instead he burned his follower to death. Full of remorse, the Prince built a temple in the mountains and gave an order that in future no fires should be lit at this time.

From this developed the custom of setting aside this time of year as Hánshí Jié, or the Cold Food Day. Later in the T’ang period ( 628-907 CE) the Emperor Xuanzong (712–756 AD) decided to declare that the Qing Ming day was the only one in the year when people should respect and remember the ancestors.

Qing Ming gifts for the ancestors

Another name for Qing Ming is the ‘Tomb Sweeping’ day. To this day it is the custom for Chinese families to use this day to return to their hometowns and carry out ceremonies of remembrance at the graves of the ancestors. This might sound like a gloomy affair, but in China it is warm, sincere and heartfelt event in which every member of the family has a part to play. When the family go together to visit the graves, there is a tradition that everyone must have something in their hand, a contribution to make to the deceased.

At the heart of the activities are two ideas, first that the living have a duty to provide for the spirits of those who have passed and secondly, that by offering gifts, the living will enjoy the protection and guidance of the ancestors. Surely there are echoes of these core concepts in Christianity, with the Easter rituals to remember ‘the one who died that we might have life’.

Here are the more common tomb sweeping activities. “放炮” ‘fàng pào’, means setting off fireworks or firecrackers, typically done during important festivals or celebrations. “摆菜”, or ‘bǎi cài’ means arranging some food offerings. “摆花馍馍”, ‘bǎi huā mómo’ are flower-shaped steamed buns are a traditional Chinese pastry often used as offerings. “烧元宝和鬼票子” – both “yuanbao” (paper money) and “guipiaozi” (spirit money) are paper items burned during rituals to symbolize wealth being sent to the spirits or ancestors. Finally “坟头和坟四角填土”, ‘féntóu hé fén sìjiǎo tián tǔ’ is the tradition of adding soil to the top and corners of a grave mound which signifies respect and remembrance of ancestors, and is also a way to seek their blessings for future generations.

Guipiaozi ~ spirit money

Another set of beliefs are around kite flying during the Qing Ming period. There is an idea that at this time the gates between the world of the dead and the world of the living are open. Therefore by flying a kite people can carry their good wishes up to the deceased. Alternatively others believe that kites help to carry away bad luck. People who follow this idea sometimes cut the string of the kite so that any ill fortune is carried away altogether.

Qing Ming kite flying

Every Chinese festival has strong food associations and Qing Ming is no different. In the south of China the most famous delicacy to eat at this time is called 青团 or qīngtuán. These are green ‘dumplings’ made from sticky rice and barley grass. They will be filled with red bean paste of other sweet fillings. The green colour reminds people of the rejuvenation of life at spring time. In Beijing the favoured Qing Ming foodstuff is called 馓子 or sǎnzi, which are deep fried twists of dough, often arranged in pyramid shapes.

Qing Ming qīngtuán dumplings

Now let’s turn to the famous painting ‘Along the River at Qing Ming’. I think it tells us a lot about the China of the Song dynasty and the China of today. The painting is a remarkable piece of art. The original is believed to be the work of an artist called Zhang Zeduan, 张择端 . It shows a panoramic view of the then capital of the Song culture, which they called Bianjing, which is now Kaifeng in Henan province. It’s the form of this art work that makes it exceptional. It was created as a hand scroll which unrolls to a length of 528 cm. The idea was that the viewer would unravel it an arm length at a time , thereby recreating the experience of strolling through the city.

The artist chose not to portray the ceremonies of Qing Ming but the way that the ordinary people of the time used the day for meeting, eating, buying and selling. And this will be another important part of the festivities today for billions of Chinese. Whether it’s in small town markets or big city shopping , the Qing Ming scenes all over China will look remarkably similar to the hustle and bustle we see in this painting. To the right hand side of the scroll we stroll through the countryside around the city, meeting farmers and domesticated animals, just as you would today. In the central sections we pass through busy, crowded streets where all the goods and services we might find in a modern city are on offer. At the centre is a great bridge, sometimes called the 虹橋, Hong Qiao or Rainbow Bridge which is the epicentre of the thriving commercial activity. Finally to the far left we see the economic activity which is feeding the city, heavily laden boats loading and unloading cargo and even a merchant caravan of camels possibly arriving from the Silk Road.

A merchant caravan of camels

In 2010, an electronic version of this painting was created for exhibit in the China Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. The digitised version now goes on exhibition around the world and everywhere it goes it projects an image of the benefits that peace and stability bring to the lives of ordinary people and their culture. ‘Qing Ming’ has another possible meaning in Chinese which is ‘calm and orderly’, and that is a meaning which I think we can see reflecting in front of this masterpiece of world art. As ‘moderns’ perhaps we get so entranced by the fast moving magical illusions of the present and the future, that we need moments of ‘bright calm’ to reflect deeper into the past and how those now gone have shaped who we are today.

Living traditions of Qing Ming : Buns baked for the ancestors and then taken home to be shared by the family

(Images courtesy of the author or CGTN)

Resonances – Spring Themes, Poetry in Chinese & English

Sing in the Beijing Spring

If three years of studying literature at Cambridge University taught me anything at all, it is that poems must speak, or more accurately ‘sing’, for themselves and not speak through the explanations of literary critics. It’s finally Spring, the season that has been the inspiration for myriads of poetry in both Chinese and English In this Blog I’d like to present a sample of seasonally themed poems from both cultures in the hope that they resonate with you in your own encounters with vernal scenes. Having said this, I feel the need to preface the lyrics with a few thoughts on the similarities and differences, the correspondences between poetry in Chinese and poetry in English, but please feel free to skip straight to the poems themselves.

We should start by simply remarking how important poetry has been in the development of both cultures. Indeed, poetry has been the life-blood of the growth of both languages. The English language is what it is today because it was enriched by the poetic inventiveness of William Shakespeare who either created or re-defined phrases that are now common-place such as ‘cold blooded’, ‘to be a laughing stock’ or ‘vanish into thin air’. Communication in Chinese is impossible unless you are familiar with 成语 chéngyǔ, which are idioms which carry poetic associations and meanings. One of my favourites of these is 白驹过隙 báijūguòxì, literally meaning, ‘a white horses flashes past a crack in the wall’ which corresponds to ‘how time flies’ in English.

Poetry has a long and distinguished history in both cultures. The earliest known collection of poems in Chinese is the Shī Jīng, or ‘Book of Songs’, which was made in the Western Zhou Dynasty, in about 600 BCE. In England as soon as a recognisable English language began to form in the 7th century CE, poetry emerges, the first example being ‘The Hymn of Caedmon’. Just as in England, one way of understanding history is to see it through the lens of the evolution of different poetic forms and themes. For example, while in England we associate the eight century CE with ‘Beowulf’ and other examples of epic poetry, narrating heroic deeds, in China the same period is remembered as the time of the ‘T’ang poets’, such as Li Bai, Du Fu and Wang Wei who wrote lyric poems concerning nature, friendship and the ideas of Buddhism and Daoism.

From the roots of poetry in both cultures at this time we learn that poetry was a performance, rather than a written art. In fact, in both poetry cultures we find a continuous pendulum between poetry as an elite, and rather academic art-form and poetry as a form of expression of and for, all. In China in the Yuan Dynasty from 1280 to 1367, the most common form of poetry was based on songs written for popular operas. Around 1380 in England we find the poem ‘The Dream of Piers Plowman’, written as though they were the words of a simple hermit and in which the central character, Piers, is a humble peasant.

To conclude this brief overview of the history of poetry in both cultures, we should say that women poets have played very significant roles, all too often forgotten or ignored. In China the talent of a Song Dynasty female poet called Lǐ Qīngzhào is now better recognised than at any point in the centuries since her death. However, Lǐ is only one of countless women’s voices that deserve to be better heard. And the same silences fall heavily in English poetry. The literary canon is still weaponised with more ‘great men’ than simply ‘great poets’, regardless of gender.

李清照 ~ Lǐ Qīngzhào ~ (1084-c. 1151), southern Song female poet

After this quick overview of the cultural aspects of poetry in Chinese and English, let’s focus in on poetry related to Spring. As soon as the word ‘spring’ or its Chinese equivalent, ‘chūntiān’ is out of our mouths, there follows an outburst of poetic ‘awakenings’ and ‘re-awakenings’. Amazingly Beijing is on the same latitude (39 degrees north) as Madrid, New York and Naples in Italy. Spring seems to start here at the same time as in Britain, that is the final weeks of March, first two weeks of April. Of course, China is a vast country. Last week I was in the far south, in the city of Shenzehn, where, never-mind Spring, it was already Summer! This means that Spring in both England and China is preceded by long, hard winters when there is nothing for poets to do except hibernate, metaphorically of course.

Spring poems in both cultures are full of the surprise and wonder of rediscovering that nature is still there and that it’s time to go back outside. If you look below at the lines from the General Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ and Chūn yè xǐ yǔ (春夜喜雨), ‘Happy Rain on a Spring Night’ by Du Fu, I think you’ll see what I mean. There are even echoes between the cultures of the melancholy that being surrounded by the restorative beauty of Spring can bring. You can compare the modernist pessimism of TS Eliot’s opening lines from ‘The Waste Land’

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.’

with the widowed loneliness in Li Qingzhao’s lyric, 武陵春, ‘Spring in Wuling’.

The wind has subsided,

Faded are all the flowers

In the muddy earth,

A lingering fragrance of petals.

Dusk falls. I’m in no mood to comb my hair.

Things remain, but all is lost

Nor he’s no more.

Tears choke my words.

I hear “Twin ~rooks'” is still sweet

With the breath of spring.

How I too, love to go for a row,

On a light skiff.

I only fear at “Twin Brooks” my grasshopper of a boat

Wouldn’t be able to bear

Such a weight of grief.

See what correspondences about the different moods and emotions of Spring you can find in the poems below.

Now let’s look deeper into some of the different ideas about the relationships between humans and nature in these poems. The first thing I’d suggest that you look out for is the amount of naturalistic detail you find in the descriptions of poems in the two cultures. Nature poems in the Western tradition can broadly be compared to oil paintings, what is prized is the ability of the artist to realistically ‘copy’ what can be observed in nature. Attention to detail is just as valued in Chinese aesthetics, but there is a very different sense of the reality of the natural world in Chinese poems that can be compared to the sensibility of ink wash painting. Looking at one of these paintings, it becomes clear that there is a balance between finely observed and expressed detail of what can be seen and an emptiness that cannot be seen.

Actually, these differences in ideas of beauty can be linked back to philosophy. The relationship between humanity and the natural world is right at the heart of Chinese and Western thinking, but in the West there is a focus on the idea that everything in nature was created by a god, and that describing details in nature is a form of praise. There is no such thinking in China. Neither Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism or modern Socialism have a creation myth. Both Daoist and Buddhist thinking promotes the importance of understanding the idea of ‘emptiness’, which rather than seeing nature as spiritual and eternal, sees life as characterised by impermanence and change.

Emptiness’ in an ink brush pairing by the author’s friend

One final thought before we get to the poems. When you look at these poems keep an eye on the balance between the natural world and the human world. There is a tendency in western poetry that takes nature as its theme to still put humans and human concerns above a focus on nature herself. This could be seen to be a result of longstanding ideas in the west, both before and after Charles Darwin, to see the natural world as existing in a hierarchy, with humans either as the god created guardians of nature, or with humans as the top of evolution’s tree. The Chinese poetical ‘yīn’ to the Western ‘yáng’ is to see or to seek for a ‘harmony’ between humanity and nature. A very common feature of English nature poetry is the use of metaphor or simile, to compare features in nature back to humans. Alert to this, we can see it immediately in the famous Spring poem by William Wordsworth – ‘I wandered lonely as a Cloud’

‘ I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils…

Looked at in this way it becomes clear that the ‘I’, the human presence in the poem, is more central than the daffodils themselves and furthermore that the daffodils are not naturally important, but through metaphor they are significant because they are a ‘host’, a word clearly linked them to Christian ideas of angels and spirituality.

I think this point becomes much clearer if we compare ‘Daffodils’ with a quintessential Chinese ‘nature’ poem, ‘Za-zen on Ching’ting Mountain’ by the poet Lǐ Bái:

The birds have vanished down the sky.

Now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,

until only the mountain remains.

First of all, the importance of ‘emptiness’ in Chinese poet practice is very clear in this example I think. The various lines of the poem are like exquisite inked details in a ‘shān-shuǐ’, ‘mountain-water’, painting, with implied emptiness in the spaces between. The human and the natural exist in a balance of juxtaposition. The poet does not compare himself to the mountain either by metaphor or simile. And unlike the ‘I’ in the Wordsworth poem blessed by the host of Daffodils, in the Lǐ Bái poem there is no ‘I’, and in the end the human is dissolved into the natural scene.

Until only the mountain remains

Poets like Wordsworth are often seen as belonging to a tradition we are starting to call ‘eco-poetry’, that is poetry that sets out to heal the wound between the human world and the natural world. I have no problem with that claim, but personally I believe some poems in the Chinese tradition have an even more potent natural medicine. Instead of making us the outside observers of a sublime or transcendent nature, such poems dissolve humans back into their place in nature, as just another part of eco-systems which depend on harmony, not hierarchy.

Oh dear, I hope my poetry lesson didn’t send you to sleep. Enough, let’s go outside and get to the poetry.

Let’s go outside

Spring Poem 1 :

‘Late Spring’ – Lǐ Qīngzhào

Spring colours, mild and rippling,

Usher in Cold Food Day.

Wisps of dying incense smoke

Wreathe the jade burner.

I wake from my dream to find myself

Still wearing the gold-petalled hair-piece,

Reclined on my pillows.

Swallows have not come back from the sea,

People are already competing in games of grass.

Riverside plums past their bloom,

Catkins appear on the willows.

Rain drizzles as twilight deepens,

Wetting the garden swing.

Note : ‘Cold Food Day’ is another name for ‘Qing Ming’ – the tomb sweeping festival day.

Spring comes to West Lake, Hangzhou

Spring Poem 2

‘Spring’ – Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

The glassy pear-tree leaves and blooms, they brush

The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?

A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,

Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

A strain of earth’s sweet beginning

Spring Poem 3

Chūn xiǎo (春晓) – Spring Morning , by Meng Haoran (689-740)

Chūn mián bù jué xiǎo / 春 眠 不 觉 晓,

This spring morning in bed I’m still lying,

chù chù wén tí niǎo / 处 处 闻 啼 鸟。

not to awake till the birds are crying.

Yè lái fēng yǔ sheng / 夜 来 风 雨 声,

After one night of wind and showers,

huā luò zhī duō shǎo / 花 落 知 多 少。

how many are the fallen flowers?

A lingering fragrance of petals.

Spring Poem 4

Geoffrey Chaucer – General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licóur

Of which vertú engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,

That slepen al the nyght with open ye,

So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

And specially, from every shires ende

Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,

The hooly blisful martir for to seke,

That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

Spring Poem 5

Chūn yè xǐ yǔ (春夜喜雨) / Happy Rain on a Spring Night , Du Fu (712-770)

Hǎo yǔ zhī shí jié / 好雨知时节

The good rain knows its season,

dāng chūn nǎi fā sheng / 当春乃发生

when spring arrives, it brings life.

Suí fēng qián rù yè / 随风潜入夜

It follows the wind secretly into the night,

rùn wù xì wú sheng / 润物细无声

and moistens all things softly, without sound.

Yě jìng yún jū hēi / 野径云俱黑

On the country road, the clouds are all black,

jiāng chuán huǒ dú míng / 江船火独明

on a riverboat, a single fire bright.

Xiǎo kàn hóng shī chù / 晓看红湿处

At dawn one sees this place now red and wet,

huā zhòng jǐn guān chéng / 花重锦官城

the flowers are heavy in the brocade city.

杜甫草堂~ Dù Fǔ cǎotáng
Du Fu Cottage (in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, a shrine built in the poet’smemory on the site where his modest house used to stand)

Spring Poem 6

As delicate as Spring is strong – the author.

as balanced as a mathematical solution

here in the classroom’s chill, you flower,

while in the powder playground snow

dull boys wrestle for passages of power.

the lightest dust glides from your chalk,

last fall of snow on quiet mountain peaks,

fragrant, intelligent as spring, your eyes

smile again, after cracks of winters lies;

a pure black waterfall of cascading hair

soars over deep pools of a curious stare;

your open mind moves over closed ground,

only last night they trampled the dead down.

young spring, you know love cannot grow,

where division has seeds of hate to sow.

Note:

The poem is dedicated to 李清照 – Li Qingzhao, a famous Chinese woman poet of the Song Dynasty, who wrote expressively of the suffering of love in a time of crisis – in her case the wars between the Jurchen and the Song in which her husband was killed.

Shafts of spring sunlight fills a mountain village classroom in rural Yunnan

Spring Poem 7

杂诗 – Wang Wei – Random Poem

君自故鄉來, 應知故鄉事。

來日綺窗前, 寒梅著花未

You who have come from my old country,

Tell me what has happened there?

Was the plum, when you passed my silken window,

Opening its first cold blossom?

Drops of Spring mist on temple trees

I hope you enjoyed our stroll through the Spring landscapes of poetry in China and Britain. Maybe it’s time to go back to some old favourites, or better still sprinkle word-seeds to grow poems of your own.

(All photographs are originals by the author)