Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Poetic License

Harry Pye & His Friends
110 church street N16 OJX June 13th - July 6th
pv Wednesday 11th June

Harry Pye asked me to make a drawing based on a poem that had moved me and I chose

'Twenty Poems Written After Drinking Wine' - number 5by T'ao Ch'ien (365AD–427AD)

I had just moved to London to study on a Foundation course, and was browsing through a display of Chinese poetry books at a shop called Neal Street East in Covent Garden, when I came across this poem by T'ao Ch'ien. Everything seemed to stop around me as I was within the scene and the moment conveyed by this poet writing over a thousand years ago.I couldn't afford to buy the book, so I copied out the words and the poet's name in an address book I was carrying. I learnt it off by heart.Later, with the arrival of the Internet, I searched and found many translations of the poem and interestingly although each time the words were different, the essence of the meaning and the images and feeling conveyed remained the same in each translation. The western alphabet is made up of letters whose formations bear no visual resemblance to the things or ideas that they are describing, but T'ao Ch'ien was writing using Chinese pictoral, representative characters and maybe this is why the meaning is unchanged by the different translations. On the many occasions when I've sat in my rented garden in noisy Camberwell, watching the sunset behind Kings College Hospital incinerator and drinking a gin and tonic, I experience the same moment of profound meaning which cannot be put into words.

Below is a translation of the poem - you can find many more on the internet

translation by David Hinton: Drinking wine - Poem number 5 by T'ao Ch'ien (365AD–427AD)

I live in a town without all that racket
horses and carts stir up,and you wonder

how that could be.Wherever the mind
dwells apart is itself a distant place.

Picking chrysanthemums at my east fence,
far off I see South Mountain: mountain

air lovely at dusk, birds in flight
returning home. All this means something,

something absolute: whenever I start
to explain it, I've forgotten the words.