Greetings Taiji Friends,
Last June I translated a fu (prose form poem) from the Jin dynasty by a fellow named Zhang Hua. The poem quotes a line from the Zhuangzi that was a favorite of my taijiquan sifu, Gate Chan, about how the Winter Wren needs “only one twig” for its home. I discovered the poem by chance, after seeing and hearing a Winter Wren while hiking in the Oakland hills just minutes from my house. I became curious about Chinese bird names, and that led me eventually to the poem, the Jiaoliao Fu, Winter Wren Rhapsody. What does this have to do with taiji? You be the judge. I just thought on this last day of 2009 that I’d like to share it for you to read at your leisure. I wish you all a good year ahead, full of productive discoveries in your taijiquan practice.
Winter Wren Rhapsody
--Zhang Hua (232-300)
The wren is a tiny bird. Born amidst wild grasses, it grows beneath hedgerows. It takes flight, then alights within short ranges, yet finds everywhere a productive sufficiency. Its colors are plain, its body humble—of no use to humans. With its tiny shape and modest abode, no creatures harm it. It multiplies its kind, dwelling and playing in pairs. It amuses itself by fluttering about. As for the vulture, osprey, crane, swan, the peacock and the kingfisher, some of these reach to the edges of the fiery sky. Some escape to beyond the remotest regions. The lift of their wings is enough to ascend the heavens, their beaks and spurs suffice for self-protection. Yet, these birds are defeated by tethered darts and corded arrows, for their feathers and plumes are offered as tribute. Why? It is because they are used by humans. There are words that are shallow, yet they can convey something deep. Some species are small, but can reveal what is great. Therefore let this rhapsody speak:
What variety nature produces,
Dispersing manifold features throughout the myriad life forms!
To think that even so tiny a bird as the wren
Nurtures life and is endowed with qi.
Its small body, reared to flit and flutter,
Has no vibrant coloring to reflect its value.
Its plumage is not used for utensils.
Its flesh is never placed on the sacrificial stand.
The eagle and hawk fly pass with a sudden burst of wing.
Why should the wren fear nets?
Concealed in lush and luxuriant undergrowth,
That is right where it plays and gathers.
Its flying is not so elegant.
It soars aloft without urgency.
Its dwelling easily holds it.
Its needs are easily met.
Nesting in the woods, it needs but one branch.
Each time it feeds, it takes but a few morsels.
When it perches, it does not stay.
When it roams, it does not dawdle.
It does not slight brambles or thorns,
Nor does it favor angelica or orchids.
It moves its wings with easy leisure.
It skitters about in peace.
Yielding to fate, it accords with the natural patterns,
Without contending with the world.
For all this bird’s lack of knowledge,
Where do we find its apparent self-wisdom?
By not clinging to treasure it avoids buying trouble.
By not adorning itself it seduces no burdens.
At rest it holds to what is crucial, without arrogance.
When moving, it accords with the way and achieves simple ease.
Relying on what is naturally available for its means,
It is not lured by the false ways of the world.
The eagle and pheasant benefit from their beaks and spurs.
The swan and heron soar beyond the borders of the clouds.
The crane escapes to a secluded spot.
The peacock and kingfisher are born in distant frontiers.
Those wild ducks and geese returning home
Stretch their wings to soar aloft.
All have beautiful feathers and plump flesh,
So that having committed no crime, they all meet with death.
In vain, holding a reed in a beak to ward off the tethered dart,
Only to be sacrificed in this world.
The goshawk is fierce, and yet endures the leash.
The parrot is benign, yet confined to a cage.
Bending a fierce will in order to become tame. . .
Alone and secluded, imprisoned in the palace. . .
Transforming one’s voice to show one’s compliance. . .
Lamenting even the crush of quills put to use. . .
Longing for the forests and wilds of Zhong and Dai. . .
Yearning for the tall pines of Longdi. . .
Although today they receive good fortune,
It is nothing like the natural ease of the past.
The seagoing frigatebird
Arrived after escaping strong winds.
The giant bird of Tiaozhi
Crossed the mountain ridges with great exertion.
Carried for thousands of leagues,
Tossed by winds and pressed by fear,
Its remarkable size impeded by things,
So that the rareness of its appearance makes it coveted.
Yin and yang stir and rise as vapor.
The ten thousand qualities collect as one.
Great and small become blurred.
The species multiply; the types differentiate.
The jiaoming bug nests on the eyelash of a gnat.
The great peng bird fills an entire corner of the sky.
When one does not measure up to those above,
He will surely surpass those below.
Viewing the broad sky and earth from this remote perspective,
How can I know what is large or small?
--trans. Louis Swaim, spring 2009