Pilgrim of the Clouds: Poems and Essays

Pilgrim of the Clouds: Poems and Essays

Pilgrim of the Clouds: Poems and Essays

Pilgrim of the Clouds: Poems and Essays

Excerpt

There was a time, not so far in the past, when Western admirers of Chinese painting considered the Sung dynasty (960-1279) to be the only great period in the history of the art. The painting of the later dynasties—Yüan (1279-1368), Ming (1368‐ 1644), and Ch'ing (1644-1911)—was seen as derivative and uninteresting. Now, of course, we have come to realize that traditional Chinese painting retained its creativity at least as late as the eighteenth century, a realization made possible by our increasing ability to appreciate the subtleties of Chinese aesthetics. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our understanding of Chinese poetry. Although an earlier tendency to concentrate largely on the T'ang dynasty (618-906) —and, to some extent, earlier periods—has more recently given way to an awareness of Sung poetry, the great poets of the three last dynasties remain almost completely unknown. Even many Chinese critics appear to assume that the Yüan, Ming, and Ch'ing dynasties produced nothing in poetry that can compare with earlier achievements. As it happens, this is far from being the case, and we are almost certainly going to witness an expansion of our awareness in this area, as we have already done for painting.

Yüan Hung-tao (1568-1610) was one of the major poets and essayists of the Ming dynasty, a period that has been described by Charles 0. Hucker as "at once the mature culmination of China's ages-old institutional and cultural traditions and, from the opposite point of view, the seedbed from which the institutions and culture of today's China have grown." Yüan's short life (he died at the age of forty-two) falls within the "late Ming" period, which is usually considered to begin with the Wan-li era (1573-1619) and to end with the fall of . . .

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