Preface to "At the Orchid Pavilion"

"This is the ninth year of Yonghe (353 A.D.), kueichou in the cycle. We met in late spring at the Orchid Pavilion in Shanyin to celebrate the Water Festival.

All the scholar friends are gathered, and there is a goodly mixture of old and young. In the background lie high peaks and deep forests, while a clear, gurgling brook catches the light to the right and to the left. We then arrange ourselves, sitting on its bank, drinking in succession from the goblet as it floats down the stream. No music is provided, but with drinking and with song, our hearts are gay and at ease. It is a clear spring day with a mild, caressing breeze. The vast universe, throbbing with life, lies spread before us, entertaining the eye and pleasing the spirit and all the senses. It is perfect.

Now when men come together, they let their thoughts travel to the past and the present. Some enjoy a quiet conversation indoors and others play about outdoors, occupied with what they love. The forms of amusement differ according to temperaments, but when each has found what he wants he is happy and never feels old. Then as time passes on and one is tired of his pursuits, it seems that what fascinated him not so long ago has become a mere memory. What a thought! Besides, whether individually we live a long life or not, we all return to nothingness. The ancients regarded death as the great question. Is it not sad to think of it?

I often thought that the people of the past lived and felt exactly as we of today. Whenever I read their writings I felt this way and was seized with its pathos. It is cool comfort to say that life and death are different phases of the same thing and that a long span of life or a short one does not matter. Alas! The people of the future will look upon us as we look upon those who have gone before us. Hence I have recorded here those present and what they said. Ages may pass and times may change, but the human sentiments will be the same. I know that future readers who set their eyes upon these words will be affected in the same way."

-- Wang XiZhi (321-379), often referred to as the "Sage of Calligraphy". He is particularly remembered for one of his hobbies, that of rearing geese. Legend has it that he learned that the key to how to turn his wrist whilst writing was to observe how geese moved their necks. The translation is by Lin Yutang (1895-1976), who also provided the following introduction:

[This piece by Wang XiZhi, the "Prince of Calligraphists," has an unusual and most distinguished history. The original manuscript was regarded as so priceless that it was said to have been buried with the great founder of the Tang Dynasty, Tang TaiZong. Many rubbings from the stone inscription of the script through the succeeding centuries provide a history of the gradual partial erosion of the carving in stone, and students date these rubbings according to the condition of a particular stroke in a given character. The earliest we have now is the Tingwu rubbing of the eleventh century, the stone itself having been lost during a northern invasion. The peculiarity of this precious script is that Wang himself later made a clean copy of it, but failed to recapture the beauty and absolute spontaneity of the first draft. So it was the first draft, with its deletions and insertions, which was inscribed in stone.]

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