王羲之 兰亭集序by Wang Xizhi

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Wang Xizhi ( Chinese: 王羲之; 303–361) was a Chinese writer and official who lived during the Jin Dynasty (265–420), best known for his mastery of Chinese calligraphy. Wang is generally regarded as the greatest Chinese calligrapher in history, and was a master of all forms of Chinese calligraphy, especially the running script. Furthermore, he is known as one of the Four Talented Calligraphers (四賢) in Chinese calligraphy.Emperor Taizong of Tang admired his works so much that the original Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion (or Lanting Xu) was said to be buried with the emperor in his mausoleum.In addition to the esteem in which he is held in China, he has been and remains influential in Japanese calligraphy.

The Lantingji Xu was written in the Running (or Semi-Cursive) Style on a cocoon paper with a weasel-whisker brush. It consists of three-hundred and twenty-four characters in twenty-eight columns. The script of the Lantingji Xu was often celebrated as the high point of the Running Style in the history of Chinese calligraphy. The improvisational work demonstrated Wang’s extraordinary calligraphy skill with the elegant and fluent strokes in a coherent spirit throughout the entire preface. The character Zhi (“之”) also appeared twenty times but was never repeated to be the same.

Not only the aesthetic form of the manuscript is highly appreciated but also the transcendent sentiments expressed in the preface about life and death is a timeless classic. The preface starts off with a delightful description of the pleasant surroundings and the joyful Ceremony, but carries on to reveal melancholy feelings towards how the transient delights brought by the vast universe would soon turn into retrospection. Wang reckoned the same emotion would be shared by the ancestors and his future generations even though the world and circumstances would be different. The scholars, who study Wang, refer to his ideology expressed in the preface as a fusion of the Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.

Chinese Text English
永和九年,歲在癸丑,暮春之初, In the ninth year of Yonghe, at the beginning of the late spring,
會于會稽山陰之蘭亭,修禊事也。 we have gathered at the Orchid Pavilion in the North of Kuaiji Mountain for the purification ritual.
群賢畢至,少長咸集。 All the literati, the young and the old, have congregated.
此地有崇山峻嶺,茂林修竹; There are high mountains and steep hills, dense wood and slender bamboos,
又有清流激湍,映帶左右。 as well as a limpid flowing stream reflecting the surrounding.
引以為流觴曲水,列坐其次; We sit by a redirected stream with floating wine goblets.
雖無絲竹管絃之盛, Although short of the company of music,
一觴一詠,亦足以暢敘幽情。 the wine and poems are sufficient for us to exchange our feelings.
是日也,天朗氣清,惠風和暢。 As for this day, the sky is clear and the air is fresh; the mild breeze greets us.
仰觀宇宙之大, I look up at the immense universe.
俯察品類之盛; I look down at myriad works [of poetry].
所以遊目騁懷,足以極視聽之娛,信可樂也。 As our eyes wander, so do our minds too. Indeed, it is a pure delight for all our senses.
夫人之相與,俯仰一世, Acquaintance will quickly span a lifetime.
或取諸懷抱,晤言一室之內; Some would share their ambitions in a chamber;
或因寄所託,放浪形骸之外。 others may indulge into diverse interests and pursuits.
雖趣舍萬殊,靜躁不同; The choices are plenty and our temperaments vary.
當其欣於所遇,暫得於己,怏然自足, We enjoy the momentary satisfactions when pleasures regale us,
不知老之將至。 but we hardly realize how fast we will grow old.
及其所之既倦,情隨事遷,感慨係之矣。 When we become tired of our desires and the circumstances change, grief will arise.
向之所欣,俛仰之間,已為陳跡, What previously gratified us will be in the past,
猶不能不以之興懷; we cannot help but to mourn.
況修短隨化,終期於盡。 Whether life is long or short, there is always an end.
古人云: As the ancients said,
「死生亦大矣。」 “Birth and death are two ultimate events.”
豈不痛哉! How agonizing!
每覽昔人興感之由,若合一契; Reading the past compositions, I can recognize the same melancholy from the ancients.
未嘗不臨文嗟悼,不能喻之於懷。 I can only lament without being able to verbalize my feelings.
固知一死生為虛誕, It is absurd to equate life and death,
齊彭殤為妄作。 and it is equally foolish to think that longevity is the same as the short-lived.
後之視今, The future generations will look upon us,
亦猶今之視昔, just like we look upon our past.
悲夫! How sad!
故列敘時人,錄其所述; Hence, we record the people presented here today and their works;
雖世殊事異, Even though time and circumstances will be different,
所以興懷,其致一也。 the feelings expressed will remain unchanged.
後之覽者,亦將有感於斯文。 The future readers shall also empathize the same by reading this poems collection.

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