The fu is an ancient Chinese lyrical form.
What is meant by the line: "The wise man has a broad
perspective; there is nothing he cannot handle"? "Broad"
means penetrating and far-reaching. Some people have
pea-sized views, extremely limited in scope. They see only
what's immediately in front of them. Without broad and
far-reaching vision, such people certainly cannot be
considered wise or broad-sighted. A wise person's insights
are far-reaching and thorough. He doesn't merely see the
current state of decline or prosperity, but perceives that
both the human world and the celestial realm of the universe
follow the endless cycle described by the line: "Decline and
prosperity are impermanent, each reciprocating the other."
This morning, I happened to talk about Su Shi of the Song
Dynasty in my class at the University of British Columbia.
Su Shi had been demoted and sent to a remote island, known
today as Hainan Island. One windy and rainy night, he wrote
a poem. Although we are discussing Tao Yuanming's poem now,
in order to explain "The wise man has a broad perspective,"
I will use Su Shi's poem as an example, for Su Shi was
someone who truly had a broad perspective, due to being
deeply influenced by Tao Yuanming.
Being demoted in old age, Su Dongpo (Su Shi) wrote "Matching
Tao's Poems." What does 'matching' mean? Whatever titles Tao
Yuanming chose, he did the same; whatever rhymes Tao
Yuanming used, he used the same. He matched each poem in Tao
Yuanming's anthology. From this, we know that Su Shi truly
appreciated Tao Yuanming's poems.
Through the poem that Su Shi wrote upon being demoted to
Hainan Island, we can see his attitude of being a wise
person with a broad perspective. This poem is entitled
"Crossing the ocean at night on the 21st day of the sixth
month." From the 15th to the 20th of the lunar month, the
moon should be round. However, it was a stormy night and the
moon was obscured by dark clouds. Su wrote:
The constellations of Can and Dou have shifted; It must be
nearly the third watch. The bothersome rain and gusty wind
know when to cease. When the clouds disperse and the moon
shines, What decoration is needed? The sky and sea are
There is more to the poem, but we don't have time to study
it. We are mainly discussing Tao Yuanming's poems, not Su
Dongpo's, so I only quote so much.
"The constellations of Can and Dou have shifted; / It must
be nearly the third watch." Can and Dou are the names of
constellations. Due to the earth's rotation, you may see a
star over here around eight or nine o'clock at night, but by
two or three o'clock in the morning, the same star will have
moved over there. Thus "The constellations of Can and Dou
have shifted" indicates that according to the position of
the stars, it was very late at night-past midnight. In
ancient China, the hours were announced by a gong. The gong
striker would make his third round in latter part of the
night. "The constellations of Can and Dou have shifted; / It
must be nearly the third watch." It had been windy and
raining since the early part of the night, but Su Dongpo
insisted that "The bothersome rain and the gusty wind know
when to cease."
"Bothersome rain" means a heavy downpour that upsets and
annoys people. "Gusty wind" is a phrase from the Book of
Odes, and it refers to a very strong gale. To "know" means
to understand. Su Dongpo's wise and broad outlook becomes
apparent in this line. He was saying, "Won't it eventually
clear up after the gustiest wind and the heaviest rain?"
Once the wind ceases, the rain stops, and the dark clouds
disperse, the moon will emerge and nature will regain its
original appearance. At that moment, does nature need any
artificial ornaments? Of course not! "The sky and sea are
naturally clear." External changes and influences cannot
alter the true character of the natural universe. Thus,
there's no need to get anxious and worried over the
temporary "bothersome rain and gusty wind."
If this poem does not suffice to show that Su Dongpo is a
wise man with a broad outlook, we can examine another poem
of his, "Calmness in a Sudden Storm," describing his
encounter with a sudden storm while on the road. He said
that when the storm suddenly arose, his companions panicked,
but he did not. He said, "Ignore the whistling winds and the
pelting rain. Why not sing and holler and take a pleasant
stroll? ...Look back on that desolate scene-gone! Neither
storm nor clear skies exist." He said if you panic when the
storm strikes, you might knock yourself out even before the
storm gets to you. Su thought we should deal with it calmly.
"Ignore the whistling winds and the pelting rain." Don't let
the external sound of wind rustling through the woods and
raindrops pelting leaves disturb your mind.
Earlier, we mentioned twice Tao Yuanming's line "I make my
home among people, yet hear no noise of traffic" "Worldly
noise cannot disturb your mind, nor can the sounds of the
storm outside bother you. You might say, "I'm not afraid of
the storm—I'll stand here and let the wind blow me and the
rain drench me. That is not what a wise person with a broad
outlook would do. Su Dongpo would not allow you to be such a
To be continued