Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion, by Wang Xizhi

The Orchid Pavilion Gathering of 353 CE was a cultural and poetic event during the Six Dynasties era, in China. This event itself has a certain inherent and poetic interest in regard to the development of landscape poetry and the philosophical ideas of Zhuangzi. The gathering at the Orchid Pavilion is also famous for the artistry of the calligraphy of Wang Xizhi who was both one of the participants as well as the author and calligrapher of the Lantingti Xu, or Preface To The Poems Composed At The Orchid Pavilion, not to mention the literary mastery of this introduction.

The Orchid Pavilion Gathering of 42 literati included Xie An and Sun Chuo, and Wang Pin-Chih at the Orchid Pavilion (Lanting) on Mount Kuaiji just south of Kuaiji (present-day Shaoxing in Zhajiang), during the Spring Purification Ceremony on the third day of the third month, to compose poems and enjoy huangjiu. The gentlemen had engaged in a drinking contest: rice-wine cups were floated down a small winding creek as the men sat along its banks; whenever a cup stopped, the man closest to the cup was required to empty it and write a poem. This was known as “floating goblets” (流觴, liúshāng). In the end, twenty-six of the participants composed thirty-seven poems.

蘭亭集序 lán tíng jí xù

王羲之 Wáng Xīzhī

永和九Y年, Yǒnghé jiǔ nián

歲在癸丑, suì zài guǐ chǒu

暮春之初, lán tíng jí xù

會于會稽山陰之蘭亭, huì yú Guìjī Shānyīn zhī lán

修禊事也。 xiūxì shì yě

群賢畢至, qún xián bì zh

少長咸集。 shào zhǎng xián jí

此地有崇山峻嶺, cǐdì yǒu chóngshānjùnlǐng

茂林修竹, màolínxiūzhú

又有清流激湍, yòu yǒu qīngliú jī tuān

映帶左右。 yìng dài zuǒyòu

引以為流觴曲水, 列坐其次; yǐn yǐ wéi liú shāng qū shuǐ, lièzuò qícì

雖無絲竹管弦之盛, suī wú sīzhú guǎnxián zhī shèng

一觴一詠, 亦足以暢敘幽情。yī shāng yī yǒng, yì zúyǐ chàngxù yōuqíng

是日也, 天朗氣清, shì rì yě, tiān lǎng qì qīng

惠風和暢, 仰觀宇宙之大, huìfēnghéchàng, yǎng guān yǔzhòu zhī dà

俯察品類之盛, 所以遊目騁懷, fǔ chá pǐn lèi zhī shèng, suǒyǐ yóu mù chěnghuái

足以極視聽之娛, 信可樂也。zúyǐ jí shìtīng zhī yú, xìn kě lè yě

夫人之相與俯仰一世, fú rén zhī xiāngyǔ fǔyǎng yī shì

或因寄所托, 放浪形骸之外。huò yīn jì suǒ tuō, fànglàngxínghái zhī wài

雖趣舍萬殊, 靜躁 不同, suī qǔshě wàn shū, jìng zào bùtóng

當其欣于所遇, 暫得于己, dāng qí xīn yú suǒ yù, zàn dé yú jǐ

快然自足, 不知老之將至。kuài rán zìzú, bùzhī lǎo zhī jiāng zhì

及其所之既倦, 情隨事, jí qí suǒ zhī jì juàn, qíng suí shì qiān

感慨係之矣。gǎnkǎi xì zhī yǐ

向之所欣, 俯仰之間, xiàng zhī suǒ xīn, fǔyǎng zhī jiān

已為陳迹, 猶不能不以之興懷; yǐ wéi chén jī, yóu bùnéngbù yǐ zhī xìng huái

況修短隨化, 終期于盡。kuàng xiū duǎn suí huà, zhōng qī yú jìn

古人云: [死生亦大矣。] gǔrén yún: sǐ shēng yì dà yǐ

豈不痛哉! qǐbù tòng zāi

每覽昔人興感之由, měi lǎn xí rén xìng gǎn zhī yóu

若合一契, 未嘗不臨文嗟悼, ruò hé yī qì, wèicháng bù lín wén jiē dào

不能喻之于懷。bùnéng yù zhī yú huái

固知一死生為虛誕, gù zhī yī sǐ shēng wéi xūdàn

齊彭殤為妄作。qí péng shāng wéi wàngzuò

後之視今, 亦由今之視昔。hòu zhī shì jīn, yì yóu jīn zhī shì xī

悲夫! 故列敘時人, bēi fú! gù liè xù shí rén

錄其所述, 雖世殊事異, lù qí suǒ shù, suī shì shū shì yì

所以興懷, 其致一也。suǒ yǐ xìng huái, qí zhì yī yě

後之覽者, 亦將有感於斯文。hòu zhī lǎn zhě, yì jiāng yǒu gǎn yú sī wén

Translation

Preface to the poems composed at the Orchid Pavilion/ (by Wang Xizhi)/ It is the ninth year of Emperor Mu of Jin‘s Yongheera (20 Feb 353 – 8 Feb 354)/ The year of the Yin Water Ox/ At the beginning of the third lunar month (after April 20, 353),/ We are all gathered at the orchid pavilion in Shanyin County, GuijiCommandery,/ For the Spring Purification Festival./ All of the prominent people have arrived,/ From old to young./ This is an area of high mountains and lofty peaks,/ With an exuberant growth of trees and bamboos,/ It also has clear rushing water,/ Reflecting the sunlight as it flows past either side of the pavilion./ The guests are seated side by side to play the drinking game where a wine cup is floated down the stream and the first person sitting in front of the cup when it stops must drink./ Although we lack the boisterousness of a live orchestra,/ With a cup of wine here and a reciting of poetry there, it is sufficient to allow for a pleasant exchange of cordial conversations./ Today, the sky is bright and the air is clear,/ With a gentle breeze that is blowing freely. When looking up, one can see the vastness of the heavens,/ And when looking down, one can observe the abundance of things. The contentment of allowing one’s eyes to wander,/ Is enough to reach the heights of delight for the sight and sound. What a joy./ Now all people live in this world together,/ Still others will abandon themselves to reckless pursuits./ Even though everyone makes different choices in life, some thoughtful and some rash,/ When a person meets with joy, he will temporarily be pleased,/ And will feel content, but he is not mindful that old age will soon overtake him./ Wait until that person becomes weary, or has a change of heart about something,/ And will thus be filled with regrets./ The happiness of the past, in the blink of an eye,/ Will have already become a distant memory, and this cannot but cause one to sigh./ In any case, the length of a man’s life is determined by the Creator, and we will all turn to dust in the end./ The ancients have said, “Birth and Death are both momentous occasions.”/ Isn’t that sad!/ Every time I consider the reasons for why the people of old had regrets,/ I am always moved to sadness by their writings,/ And I can not explain why I am saddened./ I most certainly know that it is false and absurd to treat life and death as one and the same,/ And it is equally absurd to think of dying at an old age as being the same as dying at a young age./ When future generations look back to my time, it will probably be similar to how I now think of the past./ What a shame! Therefore, when I list out the people that were here,/ And record their musings, even though times and circumstances will change,/ As for the things that we regret, they are the same./ For the people who read this in future generations, perhaps you will likewise be moved by these words.

Lantingji Xu is Wang Xizhi‘s most famous work, which described the beauty of the landscape around the Orchid Pavilion and the get-together of Wang Xizhi and 41 literati friends. The original is lost. Some believed that it was buried with Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty in his mausoleum. This Tang era copy by Feng Chengsu (馮承素), dated between 627-650, is considered the best of all the subsequent copies.[4] It is located in the Palace Museum in Beijing. The scroll is meant to read right to left.

References

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