- 王羲之 - “天下第一行书”
Orchid Pavilion Preface
Calligraphy by Wang Xizhi
In the ninth year of Yonghe, also designated as the year of Gui Chou, we gathered on the arrival of late spring at the Orchid Pavilion in Shanyin county, Huiji Prefecture for the Waterside Purification Festival. Talented and virtuous people, old
and young, all showed up. Here in sight were towering mountains and precipitous ridges, flourishing trees and slender bamboos. A clear and glistening brook was gurgling in gaiety on both sides of the pavilion. We channeled the water into a winding groove and floated the wine cup on it. Along the groove everyone was seated. With no accompaniment of strings or flutes, still we took pleasure in composing poems during wine drinking and merrily expressed our heart. It was a fair day. The air was refreshing and the breeze was smooth. The boundless universe on high and the vast varieties on earth were such to enjoy that one could feast his eyes and please his ears to the max. What a delight!
People gathered and scattered. Life is but a span. Some prefer face-to-face talk in private about their thoughts or ideals, whereas some allow themselves an abandoned life by giving themselves to external things that are to their liking. Despite the wide differences in people’s taste and temperament, the change in spirits is similar: when they’re delighted with what comes their way, their heart is full, yet they’re unaware that old age is drawing nearer and nearer; but when they become tired of what they used to like, their spirits begin to go high and low with the change of things, followed by mixed feelings. In the twinkling of an eye, the delight stales, for which one cannot but
sigh. Moreover, a man’s life, whether long or short, is predestined, and it will end in nothingness sooner or later. The ancients said, “it matters a lot to live or to die.”
Isn’t death a great sorrow?
Whenever the cause that made the ancients sigh coincides with mine, I cannot help lamenting over their stories, yet I can’t figure out my grief. I certainly know it’s absurd to identify life with death, and that so is to identify longevity with erality. Alas! People of tomorrow see as much from today as we do from yesterday.
Hence I have put down the names of all present at the Orchid Pavilion, as well as the poems they composed here. Though times will change and situations may differ, the spirits we share. Those who read this collection of poems in the future will also feel the vicissitude of life from my words.