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Subject:Translation of an inscription
Posted By: F. Mina Tue, Apr 04, 2017 IP:

Hi everyone. I feel bad posting a question about an inscription of a painting just for intelectual curiosity instead of asking of something I own like most of the posts, but since my last question was kindly answered here it goes.

What does the inscription in the famous Xu Wei painting of bamboo says?

The chinese is "枝枝叶叶自成排,嫩嫩枯枯向上栽。信手扫来非着意"
The translation will go something like "Branches and leaves come together in rows, young and dry/old come out of the plant. The words [I write here] can't capture the essence/meaning of them."


Subject:Re: Translation of an inscription
Posted By: rat Wed, Apr 05, 2017

This is exactly the sort of thing I wish was more common on this forum, so thank you for posting!

This is part of an undated album of floral paintings in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington. The full album can be seen here:

A cropped version of this image appeared on the cover of the first edition of James Cahill's 1960 book on Chinese painting. Is the translation his? My sense of the first line is more along the lines of: "the multitude of stems and leaves all organize themselves (somehow); fresh and tender or dry and dessicated, they all strive to grow."

I wonder if that's meant as observation of society, and if so whether it reflects admiration of an order Xu perceived (Confucian perhaps?), or whether it is a personal comment by a painter who was mentally ill and felt detached from society. If so it seems relatively optimistic in tone given the tortured life Xu seems to have experienced.

But in fact your transcription and translation leave out the last clause of his poem: 是晴是雨凭人猜, which means something like "whether it's clear or rainy is up to us to decide." What do you make of that?

I imagine that someone studying Xu has narrowed down the period during which this could have been painted and looked at events in his life around that time for clues as to the meaning of the poems in this album, but of course we have no way of being certain of anything.

The full poem is:

Subject:Re: Translation of an inscription
Posted By: John R Tue, Apr 11, 2017

On the subject of Xu Wei. I was wondering what
Xu Wei inscribed on the attached painting. I
have a 'fang' copy of it apparently done by
Li Shan [1679-1760]. In comparing the two,
Li Shan has changed the dessicated palm leaves
and sparse plum into a much more lively work.
Both paintings are very large, and i can only
assume that Li Shan worked from the original.
Any help would be appreciated.

Subject:Re: Translation of an inscription
Posted By: F. Mina Wed, Apr 12, 2017


thanks for the answers. I'm still learning chinese, so I'm far away to be able to translate ancient paintigs, just have fun with the dictionary.

About the Li Shan painting, it say something about a bronze inscription. "宣庙青铜白定磁,参差插编莫论枝。 丰台有约挥鞭懒,怕见将离堕地时" The same inscription is in a painting of Yu Li 俞礼(1862—1922) here

About the Xu Wei, i give it a try, but someone who actually knows chinese surely understand it better.


"Winter on the rotten banana tree, spring on a bud [the bamboo?],
xxxxx* the old plum laughs at them.
Who in the world could be good in both,
be disgusted eating the son* of fishes and eating shrimps.
[signature] The old Qing Ten [another name of Xu] painted with joy"

[the * is where I dont understand]

Subject:Re: Translation of an inscription
Posted By: rat Wed, Apr 12, 2017

now I am in trouble. Here is the text

冬爤芭蕉春一芽,隔墙似笑老梅花。 世间好事谁兼得,吃厌鱼儿又榡虾。青藤漱老墨谑

Rotting bananas in winter and the first shoots of spring, a gap in the wall? like a laughing old plum blossom. Who on earth acts virtuously more than once? :), eating loathsome fish and picking at shrimp. Playfully inscribed etc.

Subject:Re: Translation of an inscription
Posted By: John R Thu, Apr 13, 2017

Thank you both for your help. The Xu Wei
translation is great. The 'gap in the wall'
may be shown as the hole in scholars rock.
"who on earth acts virtuously more than once"
love that. He pictures himself as that old
plum, laughing at his adversity.

Subject:Re: Translation of an inscription
Posted By: rat Fri, Apr 14, 2017

the "who on earth" is poetic license, it is probably something less satirical and more aspirational...but entertaining! | Associations | Articles | Exhibitions | Galleries |