I spent far too long with the bamboos today, but that is easy to do. ..in amongst the towering stands of Giant Timber Bamboo and Weavers Bamboo there is a quiet hidden world. If you wanted to stow away at Leu (something I have often considered) that would be the place to go. You would be quickly lulled to sleep by those quiet hollow tappings and the gentle rustlings and sighing, (one of my favourite beautifully descriptive words “sussuration” A faint, indistinct, or background sound resembling whispering applies here). It is no wonder that bamboo forests were the chosen refuge of Chinese hermits or that these beautiful plants have been the inspiration for so much poetry or art.
Wang Wei, 8th Century Tang Dynesty poet:
Alone I sit in the shade of the bamboo trees,
My strings I pluck, then long and loud I sing.
Deep in the forest, none knows I exist,
None but the moon, to me she comes, shining.
Lee Kan from the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368) was considered one the finest painters of bamboo. The painting of bamboo was a great art and required a lifetime’s study and practise and, as I have said before about many other art forms, it was a process of constant observation and refinement of technique until the simple beauty of line, shape and form were achieved. Their aim, to express the very essence of the plant, bird or rock they are depicting rather than botanical accuracy.
Bamboo was very special to the Chinese and became associated with the best moral characteristics, uprightness, modesty, openness and steadfastness.
Su Dongpo of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) wrote :
“I can eat without meat, but I can’t live without bamboo. No meat makes people slim, no bamboo makes people meretricious. Slim people can put on weight again, but meretriciousness cannot be rooted out.”
I particularly liked this translation just for the use of the word “meretricious” which is a wonderfully descriptive word, as one definition puts it:
Resembling the arts of a harlot; alluring by false show; gaudily and deceitfully ornamental; tawdry; as, meretricious dress or ornaments.
A perfect word for the poem, being the complete antithesis of everything bamboo.
I did get a couple of sketches done and then my small practice piece,(for tight botanical paintings, the very antithesis of beautiful Chinese brushwork…sigh.. ) is part of a small philodendron of some kind. This is a particularly delicate split leafed variety which twines affectionately round various trees at the Gardens.
“philódendros” ..from the Greek, meaning “fond of trees”.. as I am.