Garden of the Inept Administrator

Wen Zhengming Chinese

Not on view

The Garden of the Inept Administrator (Zhuozheng Yuan) was built on the site of an ancient temple in Suzhou by the censor Wang Xianchen (act. ca. 1500–1535). In 1527, after an unhappy stay in Beijing, the artist Wen Zhengming returned to Suzhou, where he was given a studio in the garden. In an album of 1535, Wen painted thirty-one views of the site, each accompanied by a poem and a descriptive note. Sixteen years later, at the age of eighty-one, he painted this second album of eight views. The garden still exists in Suzhou, but centuries of renovations make it difficult to identify Wen's scenes.

In these works Wen achieved the ideal integration of the three separate arts of poetry, calligraphy, and painting (the so-called three perfections). With characteristic restraint, he chose to use only ink, but, aided by the poems, the quiet and exquisite images easily evoke that magical, autumnal moment in the garden.

The Bank of Many Fragrances

Various kinds of flowers are planted next to the
thatched hall,
Purple luxuriance and red beauty in random array;
The spring radiance and brilliance embroiders them
with a thousand artifices,
In the good air and scented mist a hundred
fragrances mix.
I love the smells that fill my bosom and sleeves,
I do not let the wind and dew wet my clothes,
My thoughts fly high beyond the flowery world.
Quietly, I watch the bees dance up and down.

The Bamboo Bank

Bamboos are planted around the low mound
Forming a bank of bamboo around the edge.
In full summer it already seems to be autumn,
So deep is the wood, one cannot tell when it is noon.
In its midst is one who has abandoned the world,
Enjoying himself with a lute and a goblet.
When a wind stirs, he too wakes from drunkenness
To sit and listen to the rain on the bamboo leaves.

The Canglang Pavilion

Once a small pavilion was built by Canglang pond,*
The green water still surrounds its empty railings;
Here there are always wind and moon to offer to
the fisherman,
And boys, too, singing “Wash your cap strings!”
Rivers and lakes fill the whole land, enough for
my enjoyment,
For a hundred years the fish and birds have
forgotten themselves;
Shunjing [Su Zimei, 1008–1048] is dead,
Du Ling [Du Fu, 712–770] far away—
As a paragon of hermits who will compete with me?

*Confucius was said to have admired a song sung
by a small boy:
“When Canglang’s waters are clear, I wash my
cap strings;
When Canglang’s waters are muddy, I wash
my feet.”
Clear and muddy waters refer to good and bad
political and social circumstances.

The Banana Balustrade

The new banana is more than ten feet tall;
After the rain it is clean as though washed.
It does not dislike the high white wall,
It elegantly matches the curved red balustrade.
Cool autumn sounds come to my pillow,
Green morning colors are seen through the
Let no one take to the shears heedlessly,
Leave it until its shade reaches my house.

The Fishing Stone

The white stone is clean and dustless;
Flat, it overhangs the stream of wild water.
I sit and watch the line rolling,
I take quiet pleasure in the jadelike turning
[of the water].
I enjoy rivers and lakes, far off,
I forget cares, and gulls and egrets become
tame friends.
You must know that he who stretches his line,
Is not one who desires [to catch] fish.

The Apple Garden

Here in summer a cool shade spreads over ten mu
[of land]
This is when the fruits begin to ripen in the long
At the place where the precious baskets are divided
and given away,
In a small window, I have got a rubbing of Youjun’s
[Wang Xizhi’s] calligraphy.

The Locust Tree Pavilion

Below the pavilion a tall locust tree falls over
the wall,
Mist on the cold leaves wets my clothes.
The scattered flowers are sparse but their scent
travels far,
The cool shade falls all around, of lasting benefit
to the world.
During the literary examinations of the eighth
moon, past achievements are recalled,
When the honors of the three ministers are
entrusted to the candidates.
Since I became old I have not indulged in such
Alone I move my bed to lie in the cool of evening.

The Jade Spring

Once I ladled water from the Fragrant Hills
Cool as a stream of jade*
Would you know that as far as Yao [seventh star
of the Big Dipper] is from the Milky Way
There is another clear jade spring?
Preparing a rope, I draw water with the clouds,
In an earthen jar, I boil it with moonlight.
What need of Lu Hongjian [Lu Yu (d. 804), a
famous tea master]?
At the first sip you will yourself decide.

*The Jade Spring is a famous water source located in the Fragrant Hills near Beijing.

#7316. Garden of the Inept Administrator, Part 1



  1. 7316. Garden of the Inept Administrator, Part 1
  2. 7322. Garden of the Inept Administrator, Part 2
Garden of the Inept Administrator, Wen Zhengming (Chinese, 1470–1559), Album of eight leaves; ink on paper, China

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