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HIDDEN TREASURES. Charles Wuís Listen to the Fragrance offers a closer look at the hidden treasures in Portlandís classical Chinese garden with translations of and commentary on the literary inscriptions found throughout the garden.
From The Asian Reporter, V20, #30 (December 20, 2010), page 16.
Worth listening to
Listen to the Fragrance
By Charles Wu
Portland Classical Chinese Garden, 2006
Paperback, 113 pages, $14.95
By Josephine Bridges
The Asian Reporter
Any time is a good time to visit Lan Su Yuan, Portlandís classical Chinese garden, with a copy of Listen to the Fragrance, but this year ó near the end of the gardenís 10th anniversary year ó is an especially good time. If youíre far away and missing the garden or wishing you could visit for the first time, Listen to the Fragrance, Charles Wuís extraordinary translation of and commentary on literary inscriptions in the garden, is the next best thing.
Wuís introduction to Listen to the Fragrance is filled with delicious details of the garden.
Did you know, for example, that our garden "belongs to the category of classical Chinese gardens known as the scholarís garden?" Have you noticed there are "generally two kinds of garden inscriptions: short inscriptions, usually horizontal, and longer, vertical lines which come in couplets?" (A third type of inscription is found on rocks.) Could you pick out the five different styles of calligraphy ó seal, clerical, cursive, standard, and running ó used in the garden? Would you like to know more about the "colophon ó the small print if you will" which may "be no more than the calligrapherís signature and seal, plus the date and place of production," but also may contain nicknames of calligraphers and other personal details? Were you aware that two of our calligraphers were in their nineties in the autumn of 1999, when they wrote the beautiful scripts that grace the garden?
Take your time with the introduction, just as you linger on the threshold of Lan Su Yuan. When youíre ready, have a look at the four main chapters of Listen to the Fragrance. Start with "Overhead Inscriptions"; itís from one of these, on tiles reminiscent of a silk scroll, that this book gets its title. You can also learn a Chinese character here, the first in you guan, or Hidden Viewpoint.
"One of the principles of Chinese garden design is Ďconcealment,í which means the visitor is not supposed to see everything in the garden at one sweeping glance," writes Wu. "Keep your eyes open for recurring instances of this character in our garden."
"Inscriptions on Stone"
"The Song Dynasty calligrapher Mi Fu (1051-1107) was known to have actually worshipped his favorite stone and called it his Ďbrother.í He was also the author of the classic definition of four essential features of an ideal rock: a wrinkled surface, a slender figure, cavities, and pores." Find your favorite in "Inscriptions on Stone."
"Calligraphic Ensembles" is the heart of Listen to the Fragrance. Included here are groupings of horizontal overhead inscriptions and vertical couplets with which the garden is filled to brimming. The name of the Knowing the Fish Pavilion, the overhead inscription on the first of the gardenís three pavilions, "comes from one of the best loved parables in the Daoist classic Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu)," Wu tells the reader. The couplet that completes the ensemble "is a near replica of one found in the Joy of Fish Pavilion in the famous Yu Garden of Shanghai."
One of the benefits of carrying a copy of this book with you on a visit to the garden is the chance to understand the meanings of the inscriptions that do so much more than decorate the garden.
"Illustrated Poems on Screen Panels"
The final chapter, "Illustrated Poems on Screen Panels," is a treasury of poems too long to quote here, but the titles may well whet your appetite. Here you will find "Ascending Tiger Hill in Wind and Rain," "Mooring at Maple Bridge at Night," and "Visiting Mr. Quís Master of Nets Garden."
Listen to the Fragrance comes to a close with brief but informative "Notes on the Chinese Language" and a postscript in which the author invites "different interpretations and new translations," especially from volunteer guides, "whose intimate knowledge of our garden must give them privileged insights into the multi-layered meanings of its location-specific inscriptions."
Gary Wilson, director of events at Lan Su Yuan, points out that Listen to the Fragrance is used for training garden staff and that "almost all our docents use it as a tool during their tours. One of the things thatís the hardest to grasp is the poetry, and we use this to share the beauty of the poetry, all of which was written for this garden, specific to this hall, that walkway."
Author Charles Wu writes on this occasion, "Iím deeply grateful to the Chinese garden in Portland, Lan Su Yuan, for the joy it gives me to appreciate and keep exploring the rich culture it embodies. It has also been a great pleasure for me to share this joy with everyone through my translation of the gardenís poetic inscriptions."
The pleasure is ours, Mr. Wu.
To purchase a copy of Listen to the Fragrance, call (503) 228-8131 or visit <www.lansugarden.org>.