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Calligrapher Wen Zhengming Chinese

Not on view

明 文徴明 行書自書詩 卷 紙本

Wen Zhengming created this masterpiece of monumental calligraphy at the age of eighty-four. The writing begins with precisely articulated brushstrokes of standard script but loosens gradually into a more spontaneous semicursive. This shift in style mirrors the content of the poem itself, which begins with scenic imagery and ends with a melancholy reflection on old age and the loss of close friends.

The poem on this handscroll is translated below:

Pushing their way through the gate, mountain ridges,
all blue-green and craggy;
A side path pierces the clouds
as you climb step by step.
Green tiles in orderly profusion—
lotus-world serene;
Ancient vines deeply penetrating—
purple cliffs crumbling away.
All that passes my eyes just leads to sorrow:
ephemeral realm of dust!
The sphere of transcendence, kept at a distance—
I’ve betrayed my monastic vocation!
Of those who wandered with us ten years ago,
half have passed away.
There is only one thing forever shining:
the votive lamp before Buddha.

—Trans. by Jonathan Chaves

Poem, Wen Zhengming (Chinese, 1470–1559), Handscroll; ink on paper, China

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