Drifting and the Return—The Texture of Feelings in the Poems on Xiaoxiang Landscape Paintings from the Song Dynasty
Xiaoxiang landscape paintings first appeared in the Tang dynasty and reached maturity in the Song. This article examines the contents and the lyrical elements in the poems on the Xiaoxiang landscape paintings by Song poets. It probes the lyricism of the poets, to see how they appreciate the Xiaoxiang landscape paintings, and the texture of feelings induced by the visual qualities of the paintings.
Since poems on paintings are written on and for the paintings, an understanding of Xiaoxiang paintings of the Song is the visual premise for interpreting the colophons. A survey of the Xiaoxiang landscape paintings is in order; an understanding of the creative processes of the Song painters points to the common reservoir that the painters and the poets draw on. We take as examples Mi Youren’s Xiaoxiang qiguan tujuan and Xiaoxiang baiyun tujuan to discuss the “indigenizing” and the “abstracting” tendencies in the development of Xiaoxiang landscape paintings.
The painters treat the Xiaoxiang paintings through “indigenization” and “abstraction,” and the poets, contemplating the visual experiences and the cultural memories behind them, conjure up universalized feelings that transcend the local sense of Hunan. These feelings, as revealed in the colophons, are of three types: (1) the sorrows of a traveler; (2) the desire to return; and (3) the joy of being a hermit-fisherman.
Besides discussing the lyrical expression of the poets, this paper also explores the psychological implications of “the melancholy of a traveler” and “the desire to return,” themes which appear in the colophons on the basis of the paintings’ graphic contents. We explore these elements by analyzing the literary images of “a Xiaoxiang traveler” and “the returning geese,” as well as the mental dimensions of the motifs “the urge to return while looking at the distance” and “the desire to go home in the dusk.” We will use the Southern Song painter Wang Hong’s works, Eight Views of Xiaoxiang, Wild Geese on the Beach, and Returning Boat from the River Mouth, as examples.
Bulletin of the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, No.21 (Sep. 2002), pp. 1-42.