Heaven My Blanket, Earth My Pillow: Poems

Heaven My Blanket, Earth My Pillow: Poems

Heaven My Blanket, Earth My Pillow: Poems

Heaven My Blanket, Earth My Pillow: Poems

Excerpt

"In my life I have loved nothing else -- I have loved only literature, as other men love beautiful women. And I have especially loved poetry." These words were written by Yang Wan-li, who lived in China during the Southern Sung dynasty (A.D. 1127-1279), a period when the Chinese suffered constantly the threat of invasion by northern nomads. First the Jurchens overran northern China, establishing the Chin dynasty in 1126 and forcing the Sung court to transfer its capital to the southern city of Hangchow. Later came the Mongols, who finally overthrew the Sung in 1279 and founded their own Yüan dynasty.

Despite the personal insecurity that the Chinese must have experienced during these turbulent years, Southern Sung literature and art are often characterized by a wistful calm, a softness that seems surprising at first. A classic expression of this mood might be the small album-leaf painting by Ma Yüan that appears on page 77 of this book. Ma Yüan (flourished c. 1190-1230), known as "One-corner Ma" for his characteristic compositional technique of concentrating his subject matter in one corner of a painting, here depicts a scholar sitting in contemplation of a mist-filled void. The bank or terrace on which the scholar sits is a tiny portion of the world, though vast distances are suggested by the rich emptiness. The Chinese of the Southern Sung had created at Hangchow a refuge of elegant solitude from which they gazed longingly toward the north, and in this quiet setting they were able to enjoy the beauties of bird, rock, and stream.

THE LIFE AND CAREER OF Yang Wan-li

Yang Wan-li's life was relatively uneventful, the life of a typical Chinese scholar-bureaucrat moving from one official post to another. He was born in Chi-shui Subprefecture in Kiangsi in 1127, the very year that the Sung court was . . .

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