Saturday, 21 July 2012

Symbolism: East and West

A collection of quotations, followed by a little video of the paintings of Marc Chagall (1887-1985) accompanied by Cerys Matthews, formerly of Catatonia, singing the Welsh song of unrequited love "Myfanwy".

Jean Moreas ("Manifesto of Symbolism", 1886)
"To clothe the idea in perceptible form..."

François Cheng (Chinese Poetic Writing, 1977)
"The influence of a language conceived no longer as a denotative system that "describes" the world, but as a system of connections that provokes the act of signifying, is decisive here. Poetry, calligraphy, painting and myth form a semiotic network, both complex and unified, which cannot be compartmentalised. The three talents (san-tsai) of Man, Earth and Heaven participate in a relationship of both correspondence and complementarily. The role of man consists not only of "fitting out" the universe, but of interiorizing all things, recreating them so as to rediscover his own place within. In this process of "co-creation", the central element with regard to literature is the notion of wen. This term is found in many later combinations signing language, style, literature, civilisation, and so forth. Originally, it designated the footprints of animals, or the veins of wood and stone, the set of harmonious or rhythmic "strokes" by which nature signifies. It is in the image of these natural signs that the linguistic designs of calligraphy were created, and these are similarly called wen. The double nature of wen constitutes an authority through which man may come to understand the mystery of nature, and thereby his own nature. A masterpiece is that which restores the secret relationship between things, and the breath that animates them as well."

Odilon Redon "My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined."

Chung Hung (6th century) "The Breaths animate beings and things; these in their turn inspire man. Pushed by the impulsions and feelings which dwell within him, man expresses himself through dance and song. His song is a light which illuminates the three spirits (Man-Earth-Heaven) as well as the ten thousand creatures. Thus it makes an offering to the spirits, and makes manifest the hidden mystery. For unsettling Heaven and Earth, for moving the gods, nothing equals poetry." (The Chinese, like the Egyptians, have a myth of how the linguistic signs of writing were stolen from the gods, analogous to the Greek myth of Prometheus who stole fire.)

Goethe (from Prometheus)
"...Do you somehow imagine
That I should hate Life,
Flee to the desert,
Because not every
Flowering dream should bloom?
Here I sit, I form humans
After my own image;
A race, to be like me,
To sorrow, to weep,
To enjoy and delight itself,
And to heed you not -
Like I!"

Yen Yu (12th century) Man, Earth and Heaven correspond to human feelings, natural wonders and the language that is beyond language. "Among the great poets of the T'ang, the highest place is always given to the ineffable spirit. Like antelope horns which blend with tree branches in the forest, their verses are little preoccupied with observation or analysis. They possess a radiant transparency which can never be discerned. Sound which vibrates in the air, colour which shimmers like a mirage, the moon reflecting in the water, the face looking out of the mirror: such is the appearance of their poetry, a poetry of limited words, yet of meaning always extending Beyond."

Evelyn Pickering de Morgan "Art is eternal, but life is short…"

Ch'ing yuan Wei-hsin (8th century) "Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters."


  1. Each more intriguing than the last... thanks for these, Okei...

  2. East or West- art is true are when it expresses the mystery. :)

  3. I loved the quotes of the Chinese men, fascinating! I enjoyed the Chagall paintings too, thanks!

  4. I'm tweeting some of these.

  5. Thank you all! For reading, watching, sharing, tweeting :)