Michael Ondaatje


The Great Tree

'Zou Fulei died like a dragon breaking down a wall...

this line composed and ribboned
in cursive script
by his friend the poet Yang Weizhen

whose father built a library
surrounded by hundreds of plum trees

It was Zou Fulei, almost unknown,
who made the best plum flower painting
of any period

One branch lifted into the wind

and his friend's vertical line of character

their tones of ink
—wet to opaque
dark to pale

each sweep and gesture
trained and various
echoing the other's art

In the high plum-surrounded library
where Yang Weizhen studied as a boy

a moveable staircase was pulled away
to ensure his solitary concentration

His great work
'untrammelled' 'eccentric''unorthodox'
'no taint of the superficial'
'no flamboyant movement'

using at times the lifted tails
of archaic script,

sharing with Zou Fulei
his leaps and darknesses

*

'So I have always held you in my heart...

The great 14th-century poet calligrapher
mourns the death of his friend

Language attacks the paper from the air

There is only a path of blossoms

no flamboyant movement

A night of smoky ink in 1361
a night without a staircase
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