Seaside Pentina for a Chinese Painter
Originality should not disregard the “li”
(the principle or essence) of things.
—The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting
The fish-scale glitter of the sea, the cloud
That hung its careless grace above the dock,
The solo fisherman who hauled a fish
To air: these were the things that pleased her eye,
The seaborne images she wished to mark.
Not for the picture’s sake she wished to mark
The dock’s salt-silvered boards or floating cloud,
Not as a souvenir of things her eye
Perceived, nor as a fleet of things to dock
And moor on paper, nor as captured fish.
She wished to snag another sort of fish
Entirely, and to hit a deeper mark
Than what the shimmering and brine-soaked dock
Proposed to others there, or what the cloud
Above seemed saying to a staring eye.
Nor did the watching painter wish to eye
The scene in search of novelty, or fish
For some surprising shock of sense to cloud
Quicksilver minds; instead, to freely mark
The world of things and tug her thoughts to dock
By finding out some essence of the dock,
By understanding aim of hand and eye,
By striving without strife to hit the mark
And catch the fluent spirit of a fish
Or mystery inhabiting a cloud.
So li that lives in cloud or dock or fish
May find a willing eye and hands to mark.
Editor’s Note: This delightful pentina uses lush imagery to draw the reader into a landscape that feels as ephemeral as a painting, but with a structure that perfectly encapsulates the concept of “li”.