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自题金山画像 Self-inscription for a Painting of Me at Jinshan Temple

自题金山画像

原作: 苏轼(字子瞻, 号东坡居士; 11世纪北宋)

英译: 闵晓红(2024.02)


心似已灰之木,

身如不系之舟。

问汝平生功业,

黄州惠州儋州。

 

Self-inscription for a Painting of Me at Jinshan Temple

Chinese original: Su Shi (11th AC, social name 'Dongpo')

English translation: Julia Min (Feb. 2024)


My heart is like a tree burned down to ash.

My body is a floating boat fully detached.

If you wish to know the life strokes I wrote,

Just go to Huangzhou, Huizhou ’n Danzhou.



Appreciation:

This short poem is an improvisational writing when Dongpo saw a painting of him by the famous artist Gonglin (李龙眠, 字公麟). It's a long sigh of deep despair towards his unfulfilled ambition for his country. A strong sadness and self-ridicule are woven together in the 24 simple words, but every word seems to have the power to leave you dewy-eyed if you know his story. He didn’t mention any of the places where he had made achievements with remarkable strokes of genius, such as Mizhou, Xuzhou, and Hangzhou. Instead, he chose to mention the three places of his banishment where he and his followers were unable to assist much as civil servants when the nation was in need. The phrase “a floating boat fully detached” implies a Daoist state of setting the mind free from worldly attachment to national matters. To Dongpo, Daoism had been a retreat but never could he give up his caring mind for the benefit of the Song people. After all, he was a man of the people and for the people. But now he was at the age of 63, and the three banishments had left him in poor health. He knew his life journey was coming to an end.  It does read like a summary of his life on his deathbed, or, as a farewell poem at a funeral ceremony. And, as it happened he died just two months later.

 

Life is so implicit, like a book with no words in it but full of invisible energy. It seems all his experiences were designed for his strokes of genius in art creation. He spent all his life trying to achieve a successful political career, yet a thousand years later, we witness his side products win over the core product.  He was unfulfilled in his political career but fulfilled in poetry, prose, painting, calligraphy, and even in kitchen cuisine.


Reference:

  1. picture from sohu.com - 《走进苏东坡的春天》

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