The Three Perfections

[green_message] In terms of form, each stroke is traditionally observed for itself and how it relates to connecting strokes when combined in a specific order that composes each character and in turn, each line of prose or poetry. This prescribed order should in fact imitate some of the fundamental aspects of nature and create a natural balance in the character. Every stroke may be seen as an extension of nature’s forces. There can be no hesitation in the brushwork, as in a unique moment of creation, the artist is caught up in the emotion and not consciously thinking of the calligraphy. As the presentation of forms in a specific time and space, calligraphy is a kind of performance art. The written characters are the visible traces that the brush has taken over the path of the paper or silk. A viewer can recreate every movement of the brush and mentally follow the actual process of creation in all its consecutive phases. One has the sense of actually watching the calligrapher performing. In this way it is said that the personality of the calligrapher is revealed through his calligraphy.

In China there have been many discussions of the aesthetics of calligraphy and painting over time. The processes of painting and calligraphy are often considered interchangeable, inseparable and codependent. It was said in the ninth century that “painting and writing (calligraphy) have different names but a common body.” A thirteenth-century critic wrote about the great calligraphers Wang Xianzhi (303-79) and Mi Fu (1051-1107) “being good calligraphers they were inevitably able painters and being good painters they were inevitably able calligraphers: calligraphy and painting are essentially the same thing.” Painting has also been called silent poetry (wusheng shi), as a painter is said to write out his feelings in silent words. Thus, the appreciation of Chinese painting is understood to be a complex interplay, and we now recognize the achievement of the “Three Perfections” as a rare accomplishment indeed.

Richard A. Pegg

[/green_message]

The Shih Ching , usually translated as either The Book of Songs or the Classic of Poetry, is the first great collection of Chinese poetry. Tradition says that it was edited into its present form by the Sage of Sages, Confucius himself. In fact the book was assembled before, during, and after the life of Confucius. Its more than three hundred poems include fragments of works as old as the Shang Dynasty (traditional; dates 1766-1154 BCE) as well as “contemporary” poems from the Chou feudal states written or spoken by both aristocratic court figures and just plain “folks”. A great deal has been said about the origin of many, if not the majority of the poems as oral “folk” art, but it is clear from the artistry of the written language in which they have been handed down that, like the scribes who improved upon the originally oral poetry attributed to “Homer” in the West to create the Iliad and the Odyssey, the people who converted Chou folk songs and court verses into poetry in written Chinese characters clearly thought of themselves as (and were) artists. So the characters used to render simple and direct lyrical utterances of the illiterate peasant folk often honor them with carefully chosen written vocabulary: the heart and soul of folk art remains clearly present, but literary subtleties are introduced. The scribes who created the Shih Ching were poets, not tape recorders. They chose the best of what existed, and they honored it with their own art.

In its present form, the Shih Ching consists of three major sections, the Kuo Feng, or Odes of the States, comprising 160 of the 300 are generally but not always folk songs. The Ya (Elegant Verses) subdivided with no obvious criteria into greater and lesser, include poems 161-265, and the Sung or Temple Odes high ritual songs and bits of dynastic myth, include poems 266-305. The present selection is comes, all but a single longer poem on drinking and its positive and negative consequences from the “Lesser Elegants”, all come from the Kuo Feng Sections.

Knowledge of the Shih Ching poems was a necessity of diplomatic practice around the time of Confucius, when it was a common practice to deliver or at least support the delivery of diplomatic messages among the feudal domains (the “States or Guo of the Guo Feng) by oral presentation of relevant lines from the Classic. From the Han on many of the poems where imbued with very specific allegorical interpretations, but it is clear that later poets, who memorized the book word for word, used it as allusive material in their own poems at least as often for its plain “folk” messages as for its orthodoxly approved allegorical ones.