How Can One Make Tea with Cold Water?
When I give you the first line to match for a couplet, it is always
impromptu. Whatever I see at the time will be the subject. It is not
fixed, so you may not be able to predict it. It has always been this
way: myriads of changes with no fixed rules. It is just like children
playing at drunken boxing.
The skill of matching couplets depends on your wisdom. If you have
wisdom, eloquence, the ability to adapt to the situation, and
quick wits, then you will be able to match even the difficult ones. If
you do not have true wisdom, then when it becomes challenging,
you will not be able to pass. You cannot fake it. The match made by
one with wisdom is fresh and outstanding, and not the same old
tune played over and over. If you just model your match after
others', then your thoughts will never broaden. You will be running
back and forth on the same track. "Others use these words in their
match, and I follow suit." That is what those who lag behind do. So,
from the couplets people match, we can see their wisdom. When
you are quick-witted, your match will correspond perfectly with the
first line; the meaning can either be similar or contrary to that of the
first line; your match can also hold personal significance. However
the match should read very smoothly and not be forced. If it's too
stiff and people do not understand what it means, that will not do.
If you match just the words and not the meaning, that still won't do.
The two lines must be matched in both words and meaning. That is
the most difficult part. You cannot make hot tea with cold water,
trying to force it. You have to really be good at it.
The Child with a Bright Mind and Sharp Ears
To determine a person's learning, just see if his mind is discerning
and penetrating, and if he understands at the first sight. Though
matching couplets is a refined, cultural activity, a match still should
be easily understood by people and not be something which no one
understands. It should also make sense. There should be some
constant principle in it. Therefore, if you do not spend some effort
in studying it, it won't work. When I was a kid, I loved to match
couplets. One time, the teacher gave the phrase "A cock crows" to
be matched. Do you know what my classmate matched it with? He
matched it with "Chou period" (the period from I to 3 A.M.), which
the teacher marked as nonsense. I matched it with "A dog barks,"
and the teacher gave me a circle (signifying approval). I still remember this.
I was pretty naughty at that time. There were over thirty students
in the class. When we had to match couplets, they would shove
their notebooks towards me and ask me to do it for them. Then I
would write a few words for this one, and another few words for
that one. I imitated their handwriting. I remembered once when the
teacher gave the line: "The wild geese fly through the sky." I
matched it for another student with: "The elk roam in the
mountains." The teacher kept looking at the notebook with a frown
and asking, "Did you match this? I don't think you would normally
come up with such a good match!" The student didn't dare to say
that I had done it for him. That's how naughty I was. At that time,
I reasoned that since they could not come up with any matching
lines, I would write matches for them.
Helping others is the source of
In matching couplets class, usually
people write their matches in their own
notebooks. Each person knows only
his own matches. Here, we have so
many people writing their matches on
the blackboard. Everyone can see
whose is right and whose is wrong.
Everyone can learn by watching.
Gradually, you will understand the
skill involved in matching couplets. It
develops people's wisdom.
The Principles for Writing
Poems, Verses, and Rhyming
Compositions Are the Same
What we're doing is called "playful
samadhi." Literary people should not
only be good at matching couplets, but should also be able to
compose poems, verses, and prose. However, matching couplets is
the stepping stone for writing poems, verses, and rhyming
compositions. If you know how to match couplets, other forms of
composition will be easy for you.
In matching couplets, when there is a "sky" in the top line, you
should match it with "earth" in the bottom line. The meaning of
your match should not be contradictory. You should match "rain"
with "wind," "the vast sky" with "the great earth," "Trees by the
sea" with "flowers in the mountains," "fisherman" with
"woodcutter," "hazy fog" with "dim clouds," "The evening clouds
are crimson once the rain has stopped" with "The autumn night is
silver when the wind is blowing high," and "The fog is hazy" with
"The thunder is muffled." All of these have a fixed cadence and
Everyone should pay attention to this. You should also read the
poems composed by the ancients to see what they are like. Take this
one, for example: "The white sun disappears behind the mountain;
the Yellow River flows into the ocean. If you want to gaze a thousand miles farther, you should climb one story higher."This is a poem of five-character lines (in Chinese); it rhymes well when recited. The meaning is very good, too. The white sun disappears behind the mountain. "White" is a color. "Rests upon the mountain" means the sun disappears; it sinks behind the western mountain. It disappears when resting on the mountain. The next line should have the word "moon" to match "sun." However, it is difficult to come up with a good line with "moon." So, instead, the author wrote, "The Yellow River flows into the ocean." "Yellow" is a color, "flows into the ocean" means the water from the Yellow River flows into the ocean and loses its color. The yellow is no longer visible. If you want to gaze a thousand miles farther, if you would like to gaze a thousand miles into the distance, then you should climb one story higher. You should go one floor up. Then you will see farther. This poem has matching couplets in it.
Verses consist of long and short lines; there may be seven, five, or three characters in each line. Songs should be easy to sing smoothly. The compositions of the ancients all contained matching lines. Also, there was Wang Bo's "Preface for Teng Wang Pavilion." Its format has become the standard for rhyming compositions." Within prose, there are poems. He started the prose by saying "The ancient town Nanchang." Nanchang was the name of an old place. He matched it with the next line: "The new capital Hongdu." Hongdu is the name of a newly established place. "Among stars, it divides Yi and Zhen." [Note: If one looks at the heavens above the capital Hongdu, one finds that it corresponds to a point in space midway between the distant stars Yi and Zhen of the Little Dipper.] "On land, it is close to Heng and Lu." It is located near Mount Heng and Mount Lu. These lines are all matched. "Three rivers as its lapel and five lakes as its belt." This talks about the geographic location of Nanchang. It has three rivers as its lapel and five lakes as its belt. The next line is: "Controlling the barbarian state of Jing and extending to the states Ou and Yue.” [Note: controlling the barbarian state of Jing means its location enabled it to control the southern barbarian states of Jing and Chu; extending to the states of Ou and Yue means it could also establish relations with the eastern states of Ou and Yue.] "The splendid produce of the land is heaven's treasure. The light of the dragon shoots up towards Herdboy and Dipper. Great men are born in this propitious place. Xu Ru often visited Chen Fan. [Note: The choicest of the earth's resources is the fortune of the heaven. Just like the twin swords of the City of Fong, the bright light of the dragon prints shot straight up to the areas of the star Herdboy and the Southern Dipper. Heroes are born in this propitious land, such as the eminent scholar Xu Ru Zi of Hongdu, who often stayed at the Prefect Chen Fan's.] These lines are all matched couplets. Once you understand how to write matching couplets, you will be able to write compositions that are unique.
Whether it is matching couplets, or writing poems, verses, songs, or rhyming compositions, you should all learn little by little. Don't limit yourself to matching couplets. The study of literature is endless. The ocean of learning has no shores; it is boundless.
→To be continued