Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Wen Fu

I have been writing since I was 3 years old. I wrote stories and poems about the things I saw around me, and, as a child, my imagination was very active and ready for almost any possibility.

As I grew up, grew older, writing has always been that magnificient jump of imagination and word play. Painting, if you will, upon a piece of paper with words instead of colors. Now, thanks to hubby, there is a wonderful piece on writing from China, circa A.D. 300 that has come to my attention. It is called "Wen Fu" and is The Art of Writing.

Since it has so impressed me, and since I found an open domain copy of the essay at http://www.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/web%20publishing/LuChi.htm, I decided to put part of the essay into The News each day - except for Wednesdays and Saturday when The News will be featuring other writers and writings (hopefully).

So, without further adieu, here is Lu Chi's Wen Fu.

The Art of Writing (circa A.D. 300)

Based on a translation by Shih-Hsiang Chen, 1952, modified after consulting a translation by Sam Hamill, 1991.


I have often studied the works of talented men of letters and thought to myself that I obtained some insight into their minds at work. The ways of employing words and forming expressions are indeed infinitely varied. But, accordingly, the various degrees of beauty and excellence can be distinguished from what is common and weak. When by composing my own works, I become aware of the ordeal. Constantly present is the feeling of regret that the meaning falls short of the objects observed. The fact is, it is not so hard to know as it is to do.

I am therefore writing this essay on literature to tell of the glorious accomplishments of past men of letters, and to comment on the causes of failure and successs in writing. Perhaps some day the secret of this most intricate art may be entirely mastered. In making an axe handle by butting wood with an axe, the model is indeed near at hand. But the adaptability of the hand to the ever-changing circumstances and impulses in the process of creation is such as words can hardly explain. What follows is only what can be said in words.

(Part II will appear on Thursday)

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