My mind unwinding to a standstill…
Settled are my thoughts and ideas
Watching white light of time escape the hustle and bustle
In this moment of crystal clarity
As I walk through the Nankai University campus
Amidst the air of literary perfection
Giving it all to my inner self
Giving it all to the poetic elegance of Professor Ye
Noise, edges of this world now indiscernible
Traditions, logic of this world now disappeared
I feel the innate simplicity
Deep in a dreamy nirvana
Faced with an ever-changing world, the best approach is to accept what comes and try to make something good out of every unfolding reality, while keeping true to one’s principles.
Cognizant of this guiding thought, I immediately embarked on another journey to China despite barely touching ground after returning from a ten-plus-day exchange trip to Brazil with São Paulo University and Brasil Templo Tzong Kwan.
Accompanied by Professor Ms. Liang Lifong, the occasion for the trip this time was the joint event of the international Symposium on Chinese Poetry Teaching and the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the repatriation and teaching of Professor Ye Jiaying at Nankai University in Tianjin.
My gifts to bring along to my meeting with Professor Ye – my devoted heart, a first draft of my book The Way of the Guqin, which I toiled over for 15 years, and a guqin song to the tune of Magpie Steps on the Branch 《鵲踏枝》.
The lyrics of Magpie Steps on the Branch come from Professor Ye’s poem she wrote in 1980. The music was composed by famed Vancouver composer Xie Tianji, which I adopted into a guqin song.
Moon over the ocean on a clear, frosty night;
Who left the half burnt phoenix tree?
No one listening, I care not;
It was five years ago when Professor Ye returned to Vancouver and visited my humble abode. It was a pleasant gathering along with famous Taiwanese poets Ya Hong, the Luo Fu couple, sinologist Wang Jian and his wife Professor Li Ying, Chinese Writers’ Association chair Chen Haoquan, Nankai University professor Zhang Jing and several of her students.
It was in the presence of those distinguished predecessors and those who share the same interests that I had the honor of entertaining the guests with guqin music.
It was a glamour filled meeting hall at Nankai University on September 10, 2019, where the joint event of the international Symposium on Chinese Poetry Teaching and the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the repatriation and teaching of Professor Ye Jiaying at Nankai University was held. This special event was attended by more than 170 scholars from the United States, Canada, Singapore, Japan, Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Professor Ye’s repatriation to China to teach at Nankai University, I had the honor of playing guqin to the distinguished guests.
The next day I visited Professor Ye. Despite her age, her strength of character continues to shine through. Poet Tao Yuanming once said “Life follows the Dao of nature; activities which sustain life naturally take priority.” Professor Ye’s interpretation of this famous saying goes like this: “Our ultimate goal is to achieve Dao, the highest of ideals. The same goes for the guqin for me.”
Confucius advocated using poetry as a means of teaching gentleness and kindness. In fact, literature preceding Confucius and tracing back to ancient King Shun already outlined how to raise the young using poetry and songs – how to be righteous but moderate, accommodative but solemn, fortitudinous but not harsh, humble and not arrogant – through the praising of such desirable human character traits in poems, and by accentuating the poems through music and songs.
To my eyes, Professor Ye takes the teaching methods of these ancient sages to heart and uses them as guiding principles in her decades long, tireless teaching of poetry. At our Stringless House we also strive to achieve the same goal of character development.
The self-proclaimed Zen induced music habit of mine, is like an innate desire that is difficult to suppress. Though just thoughts and concepts, it inexplicably pushes me along in digging deeper into the vastness of literature and guqin, day and night, like cresting waves between the shores of the running river of time and space. It is in my study library where the desk lamp, classic literature, guqin, poetry – and I – engage in cycles of congregating and bidding farewell. These perpetual cycles routinely yield their rewards – fruits for the picking, sweet and content. At the same time, it is also the invisible wealth of small fragments of experience collected through time and space that is so tangible and real. To me, whether it is the change of seasons, the rhythms of joy and sorrow, or a fleeting moment of happiness, the experiences of those here-and-now’s will forever be etched into the words and musical notes of one’s life.
I will forever cherish the moments with the 95 years-old professor.
With gentle steps
Towards Professor Ye,
Her quaint and elegant study.
With tender heart,
I knock lightly on the door.
Greeting me is the charming smell of books;
Greeting me is the subtle fragrance of old Professor.
In this moment, I feel my sweet surrender;
In this moment, I can see through my heart.
Overflowing with timeless poems of Su Shi and Qingzhao;
Her sincere imparting to her students,
An achievement so bountiful.
In this very instance,
At your tender age of 95,
As you extend your arms to greet us,
Our eyes are filled with tears.
Inside of me there is no sense of time and space;
Only dreamy poetry and ballads rising up and down the depths of my heart.