Yuke Painted Bamboo by Su Shi
與可畫竹 / Yú kè huà zhú
by Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101)
Introduction: Three Chinese poems for the HTL Legacy website April, 2022
We have three poems for the website this time from three different eras of Chinese history. The first is from the Classic of Poetry, which dates from the earliest historical period for which we have reliable records. The second is from the Six Dynasties period and the third from the Song dynasty.
We have provided the modern standard Hanyu pinyin transliterations of the sounds of the characters to increase the readers’ enjoyment. The sounds of the characters would have been significantly different in the times when the poems were written. We hope that readers will enjoy reading the poems in Chinese, in pinyin and in English translations. As always, feedback and suggestions and discussion are welcome.
Ellen Soullière Wellington, New Zealand
On Yuke Painting Bamboo 與可畫竹
This is a poem written by the eminent Song dynasty poet, philosopher and senior official, Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101) on a painting of bamboo by his friend, Wen Yuke. In the poem Su Shi articulates a process that he and other Song dynasty literati painters used in painting. As they painted, they worked to dissolve the boundaries between themselves as painters and the subject of the painting, in this case, bamboo. The poem contains an allusion to Zhuangzi, chapter 19, where we read of a bell-stand carver whose nature joins with the nature of the wood he is carving. Susan Bush translated the poem in her 1971 book, The Chinese Literati on Painting. I have followed her translation for the most part, but have made a few different decisions.
Yú kè huà zhú
Yuke painted bamboo
Yú kè huà zhú shí,
When (Wen) Yuke painted bamboo,
Jiàn zhú bú jiàn rén.
He saw the bamboo and did not see the person (himself).
Qǐ dú bú jiàn rén?
How could he simply not see the person?
Tàrán yí qí shēn.
In a trance, he left his body behind.
Qí shēn yú zhú huà
His body and the bamboo were transformed
Wú qióng chū qīng xīn.
and limitless pure freshness emerged.
Zhuāng Zhōu shì wú yǒu,
The world has no Zhuang Zhou now,
Shéi zhī cì níng shén?
so who can know this intensity of spirit?
Bamboo Hanging from a Cliff by Wen Tong (文同,1018—1079), also known as Wen Yuke (文與可). Collection of Taipei National Palace Museum.