Pomegranate Flower over a Garden Wall
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.