Written on the Wall of West Forest Temple By Su Shi 题西林壁 (苏轼)

Written on the Wall of West Forest Temple

By Su Shi

 

It’s a range viewed in face and peaks viewed from one side,

Assuming different shapes viewed from far and wide.

Of Lu Mountains we cannot make out the true face,

For we are lost in the heart of the very place.

 

题西林壁

苏轼

 

横看成岭侧成峰,

远近高低各不同。

不识庐山真面目;

只缘身在此山中。

 

This poem was written on a wall. Though the language is easy, its meaning is rather profound. Through the description of varied changing shapes of Lushan, it actually illustrates the truth “the on-looker sees most of the game”. There are many poems by our predecessors describing Lushan. In “A purple mist rises as the sun shines on the Censer Peak” of The Waterfall in Mount Lu Viewed from Afar by Li Bai, special emphasis is laid on the description of a certain scene at a certain time and in a certain place. Scenery depicting poems generally follow this pattern. This poem by Su Dongpo, however, starts a new pattern, in which no specific scene is depicted, instead, various feelings are shown from changing angles. In fact, his purpose of adopting this pattern was to show “it’s hard to describe the scenes” because they differ from each other greatly. The reason why the scenes vary so much is that what have been seen are different details of Lushan, for which the whole panorama of Lushan can’t be enjoyed because “you yourself’ are in the mountains”. The whole poem develops along this novel and unusually charming train ofthoughts and resides reason in scenery depiction. The poem portrays the changeable” beautiful scenes of Lushan in an unprecedented way, and therefore, it is rated as a rare specimen of good writings.

 

Su Shi (1037-1101) was a writer, calligrapher and painter of the Northern Song Dynasty.: His courtesy name was Zizhan, and his style name Hermit of Dongpo, so he was respectfully called Su Dongpo by later generations. He was a native of Meishan in Meizhou (in present day’s Sichuan Province). Su Shi and his father Su Xun, his younger brother Su Zhe were all outstanding talents in the literary circles of the Northern Song Dynasty, jointly called “three talents of the Su family” and listed as “the eight prose masters of the Tang-Song period”. Su Shi, who was good at poetry, ci, fu, prose, calligraphy and painting, was the e leader of the literary world of the Northern Song Dynasty following Ouyang Xiu. . He was an official throughout his life. He prompted what was beneficial and abolished what was harmful to the ordinary people. Although he favored reforms, he opposed the one led by Wang Anshi and was thus in great confiicts with those reformists. As an honest and upright man, he stressed moral integrity and never fawned on the men in power; therefore, he encountered more hardships. He was once put into prison on a false accusation and demoted to distant places for several times. These hardships, however, enriched his experiences, broadened his vision and urged him to be close to the people and face the reality. This contributed greatly to his attainments in literature. He composed over 2700 poems, which drew materials from all sides and were original in themes. More than 340 pieces of his ci initiated a new school of powerful and free styled writing; his essays were written in beautiful language and thought provoking; his calligraphy and painting have both exerted tremendous influence on literary men of later ages. He has always won the respect of the people as an important figure of rare ability in the history of Chinese literature.

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