Pome­gran­ate Flower over a Gar­den Wall

Beijing (English) - - CHERISHED POEMS - Trans­lated by Wang Qi­uhai, pol­ished by Mark Zuiderveld

May ap­proaches as a sweet breeze with bloom­ing pomegranates. In sum­mer with few flow­ers, red pome­gran­ate blos­soms in ev­er­green fo­liage are over­pow­er­ing. As a re­sult, writ­ers and po­ets in pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions wrote po­ems on pomegranates that have since been handed down. “A wild pome­gran­ate is try­ing to climb over the short wall, while hid­den in the green leaves orioles sing mer­rily. The red man­sion is bathed in early sun­shine. Sweet sleep by bam­boo mats is in­duced, how I love the fra­grant in­cense in my pri­vate cham­ber. A se­cluded life with wine I'll seek af­ter, who cares for em­bel­lished car­riages with of­fi­cial pomp and power.” One May morn­ing in 1067, Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072), a lit­er­ary gi­ant, wit­nessed a pome­gran­ate flower bloom­ing one morn­ing and wrote “Pome­gran­ate Blos­som­ing in West Gar­den.”

In pre­vi­ous dy­nas­ties, many po­ems were writ­ten on pomegranates, which cre­ated a unique cul­ture of Chi­nese pomegranates. In China, pomegranates had many beau­ti­ful names: dan­ruo, wodan, and jiny­ing. Dan means red and pome­gran­ate flow­ers com­ing in bright-red, pink­ish red, orange, pink and white colours. Most peo­ple be­lieve the flower has a fiery red colour, which is the most com­mon among the species. As May in the lu­nar cal­en­dar is when pome­gran­ate flow­ers are most plen­ti­ful, it is dubbed the “pome­gran­ate month”.

Pome­gran­ate has been grown in China for more than 2,000 years. His­tor­i­cal records show that the first batch of pomegranates in­tro­duced was planted in the north­west of China, which was then spread across China since the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907). As the fruits of a pome­gran­ate are red with plump seeds when they are ripe, peo­ple deem the plant to be the sym­bol of be­ing able to have many chil­dren and en­joy a bliss­ful life, thus it is re­garded aus­pi­cious­ness.

As Bei­jingers love pomegranates, an old say­ing goes: “Canopy, gold­fish bowl and the pome­gran­ate tree,” il­lus­trat­ing a court­yard scene of sum­mer in Bei­jing. In the early years, many court­yards were dec­o­rated with pome­gran­ate trees. Ac­cord­ing to the yard's lay­out and size, a cer­tain num­ber of pot­ted pomegranates or pome­gran­ate trees were planted, in­ter­spersed with gold­fish bowls. At the height of sum­mer, a canopy was set up to pro­vide shade from the sun­shine. One felt pleased to take a ca­sual stroll among the pome­gran­ate trees and fish­bowls.

For Ouyang Xiu, 1066 was a bad year. He sub­mit­ted a memo­rial to the em­peror to ex­press his dis­con­tent about the court's prac­tices, only to be dis­missed from his po­si­tion as prime min­is­ter and ex­iled to the re­mote area of Bozhou (to­day's Bozhou in An­hui Prov­ince) as mag­is­trate of a county. One Fe­bru­ary day of the fol­low­ing year, he ar­rived in Yingzhou, of An­hui Prov­ince from Bian­jing, the cap­i­tal city of the North­ern Song Dy­nasty (AD 960–1127). Yingzhou was fa­mous for its beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral scenery and unique land­scape of gar­den ar­chi­tec­ture and he got the chance to view the scenery of West Lake of Yingzhou. He and his fam­ily lived there for five months.

One evening, he came all the way to the West Gar­den at the side of the West Lake in Yingzhou. It was in May and the tree branches in many gar­dens had al­ready been cov­ered with a lot of red pome­gran­ate flow­ers, cre­at­ing a unique scene. The pome­gran­ate flow­ers in the West Gar­den were the most con­spic­u­ous. This flower, be­ing “warm but not se­duc­tive, novel but not ob­se­quious as well as lively, colour­ful and un­par­al­leled in beauty,” oc­cu­pied a special place in the hearts of men of let­ters.

The pome­gran­ate flower that has climbed over the wall in the first morn­ing light ap­pears par­tic­u­larly del­i­cate and charm­ing. Although it is grown out­side the wall of the gar­den, it has not lan­guished. On the con­trary, it is in full blos­som to try to re­veal its brightly red colour and dis­play the mean­ing of life en­dowed to it by na­ture to the world.

Soon af­ter­wards, Ouyang Xiu left Yingzhou with his fam­ily. Even though the pome­gran­ate flower in the West Gar­den had long gone, the life truth per­ceived by Ouyang Xiu was im­mor­talised qui­etly in the “Pome­gran­ate Blos­som­ing in West Gar­den”: “A se­cluded life with wine I'll seek af­ter, who cares about the em­bel­lished car­riages with of­fi­cial pomp and power.”

Now that May has come again with pome­gran­ate flow­ers blos­som­ing in the wind, the month is unique for its story handed down of Ouyang Xiu and of “Pome­gran­ate Blos­som­ing in West Gar­den,” with the poem spread widely among read­ers.

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