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Shen Zhou 1427-1509
POEMS ON FALLING FLOWERS IN RUNNING SCRIPT
The setting sun, that vagabond, west of the little bridge;
Spring scenes now fading, feelings so confused.
Before the gate of Broidered Village the stream still good for laundry;
Inside the shrine on Yellow Ridge the birds yet chattering.
To burn, seeking conch-dust incense to give the priest in charge;
To fry, bringing cow-milk cheese, instructing the kitchen maid.
Jewels, hairpins by the thousands ? Alas, none of them out here!
Returning home, all they want are baskets for carrying blossoms.

The day the fragrance dies away is the season of new life.
These plum girls, and these peach blossom maidens all give birth to children!
But now, folks have dispersed, the wine wears out, and spring too takes departure:
The reds diminish, the greens expand - no, nature has no feelings.
Envy of surplus silken beauties? Leave it to the rich neighbor.
But scattering, like patterned writings! - they brush the ground so low...
In vain I remember when I was young, those arenas of hairpins, dances...!
Gone, all gone, and now, today, only temple hairs like white silk remain.

Together they bring such springtime sadness to this traveler's brow;
Chaotically, in wild profusion as I stand here long.
I think of summoning the Green Maiden, but it's hard to form the chant!
I'd playfully compare them to Red Child, but - tedious to write so many poems!
I overlook the river, eastern breezes riffling my short temple hairs;
Perfuming the air, the clear-sky sun joins their wandering threads.
And now I follow the butterflies, pursuing them as they fly:
At the wall's corner, now appearing, a half-branch hiding there!

Wealthy, offering riches galore, spring filling every tree!
Then fragrance floats, petals drop, the trees are poor again.
The red and fragrant now sloughed off - immortals achieving the Way!
The greenery begins full shade - a son cultivating humaneness.
While some are added to swallows' nests - the mud receiving grace - Others are made into honey by bees; liquid made divine.
Year after year, there is one who grieves yet more for you:
The moth-browed beauty, she who still remains unmarried yet.

Floating, floating, sailing, dancing, far away from home:
From down below I trace their path back up to the treetop.
Chao Wu would grasp their shame, rain-driven to 'mud and plaster';
The Palace of Ch'in would surely regret the smearing of their rouge!
Wild in feeling, loving wine, they stick to the red sleeves;
Driven, hurried, threading the blinds, mooring on jade hooks!
Oh! I would gather these fragmented flowers, pound them into a pill,
But, grieved by spring, too hard to heal, the sorrow here, in me.

Jade bridles, silver jars - grown weary of the journey,
Flying east or falling west, now they make us sad.
Rapidly escorting spring away, first they part from trees;
Faint, supported by the wind, they barely reach the pavilion.
Fish-bubbles of life, some powdery pollen remains;
Spider-threads of love, tiny red bits still cling.
Their color, their fragrance - long mired in the realm of the senses:
But contrition, repentance? How could they ever emulate Buddhist nuns?

And who has twisted, crushed them to piles of broidered cloud,
Touching earth, spread on the ground, supported by the moss?
Sadness, resentment born at night from my pillow, hearing rain;
Sinking, floating, entering next morning my 'Farewell, Spring!' cup of wine.
Among the branch tips, a few remain, still stolen by the warblers;
Fluttering, riding the back of the breeze, tailorbirds press them on.
The blink of an eye! The Rise and the Fall! The whole just worth a laugh!
In the end, why is it that they drop? Why is it that they're born?

Along the twelve boulevards, the pleasure-seekers roam:
But now red rain, filling the avenues, thwarts them with spring grief.
They realize that time flows on, so difficult to hold back!
They waken to the emptiness of the material world, and contemplate withdrawal.
Now at dawn, they regret the insensitivity of servants' sweeping petals;
Returning late, are saddened by horses' trampling them underfoot.
Yet the next day, again they boast of 'cherry lips', 'bamboo-shoot fingers':
With Miss Green Leaf, Miss Yellow Oriole, at the old pleasure-house again!

Yesterday's flowery glory dazzled our eyes when it was new;
This morning, in a twinkling, it's all turned to dust again.
Deeply ensconced within his gates, Yang Hsin has no visitors;
Sprawled at leisure in his pavilion, Chou Yu has drunken guests.
Tears of dew, misty snivel - we mourn the things that pass;
Snail-mucus, ant trails - we lament the lingering spring.
Gateways, walls, walking paths - all deserted now;
If the Prime Minister understood this time, he would not explode in rage.

An entire garden of peach and plum - they lasted but a moment;
White on white, red on red - whole trees stripped of them!
Pavilion? I marvel that the greensward's darkness is topped now by old white;
Window? I fret it's easily mottled, speckled by new red!
They have no way to float afar, as does the wanderer;
Thus they wither, fade away, just like an old man.
Next year, again they'll blossom, and surely that is good:
Another little poem again will show their flourishing and dying.

The 105 Days have gone by now in the twinkling of an eye!
Overnight, not a single tree not shaken by the wind.
Girls dancing, singing Stomping Songs, will conjure willows white!
Poets pouring, drinking wine, will chant of rainfall red !
Along Gold River they'll send their fragrance, far off with the waves;
On stairs of jade, seeking their shadows, in moonlight - nothing left.
While blossoming, deep in the courtyard locked securely away,
Now they float beyond the walls, to the west and to the east...

Wave upon wave they flutter in a blur, cannot be clearly seen;
A downpour's time - the fragrant trees have lost their soul and spirit!
Yellow gold could not refine the longevity's root for them;
Reddish tears in vain lament the brevity of spring life.
Upon the sward, a few remain, temporary traces left;
On roads, some ground into mud beneath pleasure-seekers' horses.
Everybody will be preparing wine to be drunk next spring;
Ashamed of lingering to see them again there's only this old man."

Wildly, wildly, thickly, thickly, sideways, slantwise too;
How can we bear their delicacy, their lightness on the air?
'Adhering to mud' like Master Liao - but no sign of his craziness!
'Clinging to this thing', Old Man P'o earned a name for wrong.
Seeing off rain, seeing off spring, at the Temple of Long Life, Flying hither, flying thither, in the city of Loyang!
Please, do not hold a grudge against the wind and rain today!
The Creator of Things has always placed a 'taboo on exorbitance'.
(Translation courtesy of This Single Feather of Auspicious Light.)

signed Changzhou Shen Zhou, inscribed "above are my Poems on Falling Flowers, exhausting the length of the paper at Shuang-e Mountain Studio", with two seals of the artist, qi nan, bai shi weng

Titleslip by Wu Hufan (1894-1968)
Titleslip on mounting boarder by Wu Dacheng (1835-1902), signed Kezhai

Wu Hufan's inscription:
To the right is a handscroll of Falling Flowers poems written out by the venerable gentleman, Shih-t'ien (Shen Zhou), thirteen poems in all. It was originally collected in the Yüan-chin Temple (the Ch'an Buddhist Temple of the Perfected Ford, popularly known as the Young Lady’s Shrine) at Chu-chia chiao (Chu Clan Corner), Ch'ing-pu (a small town west of Shanghai, in the direction of Lake T’ien-shan and of Suchou; now part of the Greater Shanghai Industrial Corridor). During the late Ming period a certain distinguished monk, who was in charge of the temple, maintained extremely intimate relations with such men as Tung Wen-min (Tung Ch’i-ch’ang), Chen Mi-kung (Ch’en Chi-ju), Wang Hsün-chih (Wang Shih-min) and Wu Mei-ts’un (Wu Wei-yeh). And he too was good at poetry and painting. For this reason, the masterpieces collected in his temple were quite numerous.

Ten years ago, together with Wang Hsü, Yüan-wen, I travelled there and was able to view the works there collected, and this handscroll of Falling Flower poems by Shen Shih-t’ien was included among them. I myself considered that some former man had produced a fake which was perfectly congruent with this handscroll in layout and form. There were a few other items as well, such as hanging scrolls by Wang Hsüan- chao (Wang Chien) and Wang Shih-ku (Wang Hui) which seemed to be of the same type. When one examined the paper and ink (of the fakes) it appeared that they must have been executed within the last fifty years. And thus I realised that the present scroll too must have been substituted for there (by a fake version) within the same sort of period. For it was just forty years ago that the label (of this original) was inscribed by the late Master K’o- chai (Wu Ta-ch’eng).

At the present time, in this temple there exists an album of the Chin-kang ching (the Diamond Sutra) as calligraphed by Ch’en Chi-ju, Wu Wei-yeh, Wang Shih-min, Wang Chien, Chu-ch’a (Chu I-tsun) and so on - a total of thirty-two hands working together. It was created in successive stages from the T’ien-ch’i through K’ang-hsi periods (i.e. circa 1621 - 1722) and is indeed an object greatly worthy of viewing. There is also a hanging scroll portrait of that monk in charge of the temple, and it is remembered that Wang Hui added in its landscape elements; but unfortunately the signature cannot be clearly read.

Last year in Shanghai there was a conference on Literary Documents from Ten Counties, at which I heard a friend of mine claim that half the treasures of the temple had been destroyed by fire in the ‘battle of Ch’i and Lu’ of the year chia-tzu (1924); and I lamented to hear it. Also, last winter the temple again suffered the depredations of warfare, and now we hear that the place is in desolation, and practically nothing remains. Alas, this gives rise to great sadness at the extreme fate to which cultural objects may be exposed. Thus for this handscroll to have survived among the tattered scroll-baskets, must it not have enjoyed divine protection?
(Translation courtesy of This Single Feather of Auspicious Light.)

Colophon signed Wu Hufan, dated wuyin (1938), the eighth lunar month, inscribed "on the occasion of the scroll being remounted, I have recorded this account”, with one seal, wu hu fan

With five collector's seals of Wu Hufan, wu hu fan zhen cang yin, mei ying shu wu, wu shi tu shu ji, wu (3), jiang na wu shi shi jia, and one other collector's seal, gan quan jiang shi gui chou yi hou shou cang yin ji


ink on paper, handscroll
28.5 by 286 cm. 11 1/4  by 112 3/4  in.
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Provenance

Yuanjin temple collection.
Wu Dacheng collection.
Wu Hufan collection.
Yu-te tang collection.

Literature

This Single Feather of Auspicious Light: Old Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, Vol. I, London: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., 2010, cat. no. 1, pp. 24-33

Catalogue Note

Shortly after Mid-Autumn Festival in 1502, Shen Zhou, then aged 76, suffered the loss of his son1. By late spring of the following year, having gradually recovered from his griefing, he wrote a set of ten poems on the theme of falling flowers, perhaps inspired by their occurrence in nature seeing their colors or because he was then able to allow his feelings of sadness to be expressed. In the spring of 1504, Shen Zhou shared these poems with Wen Zhengming (1470-1559)2. After reading them, Wen and Xu Zhenqing (1479-1511) each composed ten poems titled “In Response to Master Shitian’s ‘Falling Flowers’”. Three of Wen’s poems and six of Xu’s were written to match the rhyme scheme of Shen’s originals. After reading their compositions, Shen Zhou was inspired to compose ten more poems in response to them. In 1505, Wen Zhengming called upon the high minister Lu Chang in Nanjing and presented him with Shen Zhou’s original verses, to which Lu composed ten poems in response. Very pleased, Shen Zhou in turn composed ten new poems in response to Lu. Later, Tang Yin (1470-1524) wrote thirty poems using Shen Zhou’s rhyme scheme. The creation and exchange of these poems on falling flowers, 90 in all, by the Wu School literati artists, became a celebrated story in the study of Chinese calligraphy and literature. Shen Zhou’s poems were first documented in literary anthology Shitiangao, printed in three volumes in 1503 by Huang Huai (16th Century) of Jiyitang3. Wen Zhengming’s calligraphic rendition, in small regular script, of the poems and the story of their creation is considered the authoritative primary source4.

The earliest work of art by Shen Zhou on the theme of falling flowers, dated September 5, 1503, is his calligraphic rendition of the poems in running script in the collection of Shanghai Museum (Fig. 1). Here, the artist writes in an inscription, “Ruqi, who is fond of poetry, recently came across my ‘Falling Flowers’ poems and requested that I write them for him. As I happened to be suffering from a minor illness, I was quite displeased to be badgered by him, and thought his request quite unreasonable. But he was redeemed by his fondness for poetry, and in the end, I agreed to write the poems for him.” Despite complaining about Ruqi’s assertiveness, Shen Zhou was ultimately won over by his love of poetry. Throughout the scroll, Shen’s calligraphy is fluent and assured, fully embodying the force of his personality, suggesting Shen’s pride in his poems. Based on his self-inscription on this scroll, the manuscript of Shitiangao (not divided into volumes) at the Beijing Library, and the Jiyitang printed edition, we can date the composition of Shen Zhou’s ten poems on falling flowers to the first half of 15035.

After the Shanghai Museum handscroll came Shen Zhou’s Poems and Paintings on Falling Flowers now in the Nanjing Museum. This scroll features a frontispiece by Wang Ao (1450-1524), a painting of falling flowers by Shen Zhou, as well as a calligraphic rendition in running script of all of his thirty poems on the theme. Shen writes in his inscription, “… In the spring of 1505, I was sick for an entire month. When I recovered, the flowers on the trees had all fallen, covering the ground with red and white petals. Seeing their decay without having seen their blossoming, I could not help feeling sad. My encounter with the fallen flowers inspired me to compose verses entitled ‘Poems on Falling Flowers’. I obtained ten regulated quatrains and sent them to my dear friend, Zhengming, who passed them on to Jiubo, the High Minister. He responded with rhyming responses that far exceed my wretched creations! Just as Momu had no shame about herself, I stretched my abilities to respond [to Zhengming and Jiubo], accumulating a total of thirty poems…” According to this Nanjing museum scroll, Shen Zhou composed the first ten poems only in 1505, later than indicated by all the other records cited above. Moreover, as scholars have different opinions on the authenticity of this scroll6, it is therefore not a convincing source of reference.

The third work by Shen Zhou on this theme is Painting with Poems on Falling Flowers (Fig. 2) in the collection of the Taipei National Palace Museum, as part of the Shiqu baoji chubian anthology. It bears a frontispiece and a painting of falling flowers by Shen Zhou himself, followed by his calligraphic rendition in running script of ten poems—nine from the initial set of ten, and one from his response to Wen Zhengming and Xu Zhenqing. This scroll is undated. Following Shen Zhou’s calligraphy is Wen Zhengming’s calligraphic inscription and rendition of his own ten poems written in response to Shen, dated to June, 1508. According to the National Palace Museum, “the calligraphic rendition of poems on falling flowers on paper is a masterpiece by Shen Zhou from his later years. The calligraphy is entirely forceful and solid, with compact characters closely pressed together. The brush strokes are full of energy, and the rich ink tones vary from dark to light and wet to dry. It represents Shen Zhou's calligraphy in the style of Huang Tingjian (1045-1105)."7 Gao Shiqi, in his Jiangcun shuhua mu, records a work entitled Poems with Painting on Falling Flowers as "not sent to the court as a tribute"8. This may be none other than this Taipei Palace Museum scroll, although it does not bear any impressions of Gao Shiqi's collecting seals.

A publication of the National History Museum in Taipei, The Four Great Artists of the Ming Dynasty: Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming, Tang Ying and Qiu Ying, records another scroll by Shen Zhou entitled Poems on Falling Flowers9, which is fourth in our discussion here, includes in running script all of Shen Zhou's thirty poems, divided into three groups of ten and arranged roughly in approximate chronological order. The self-inscription on this scroll dates it to early summer of 1489, which, if accurate, would connote that Shen Zhou had finished all thirty poems by age 62, much earlier than indicated in all the records cited above. Thus this scroll is of uncertain authenticity and cannot be used as a definitive reference. The collectors’ seals impressed and the colophon by Luo Jialun (1897-1969) on this scroll indicate that it belonged to Liu Shu (Late 18th-Early 19th Century) and Zhuo Minyuan (19th Century) during the late Qing dynasty and was later acquired by Luo Jialun, who gave it to Wang Shijie (1891-1981) as a gift. The present location of this handscroll is unknown. Some sources suggest that it is in the Taipei National Palace Museum but it is not listed in the museum's electronic database.

Neither a fifth related work, Shanghai Museum's fan painting on gold-leafed paper of Falling Flowers, nor a sixth, the Zhejiang Provincial Museum’s calligraphic fan, Falling Flowers, in running script, both attributed to Shen Zhou, are comparable to the present lot10. Wuyue suojian shuhua lu records a monumental hanging scroll painting by Shen Zhou of Poems on Falling Flowers11, and Zhenji rilu records a painting of Falling Flowers by him12. Neither work appears to be extant. Pingsheng zhuangguan records a work of calligraphy of Poems on Falling Flowers by Shen Zhou but notes neither its contents nor its format13. It is thus unclear to which work this record refers. The above are all the known works by Shen Zhou on the theme of falling flowers searchable in the public domain.

The present lot is Shen Zhou’s calligraphic rendition in running script of the ten original poems on falling flowers along with three of the poems he wrote in response to Wen Zhengming and Xu Zhenqing. It is undated. According to Wu Hufan’s long colophon, this scroll belonged to Yuanjin Temple in Zhujiajiao, in present-day Qingpu District of Shanghai. This temple, whose successive abbots were accomplished poets, and painters and associates of literati, was renowned for its collection of paintings and calligraphy, which included a compendium of Diamond Sutra manuscripts copied by Dong Qichang (1555-1636), Chen Jiru (1558-1639), Wang Jian (1598-1677), and twenty-nine other well-known calligraphers who lived during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The collection became dispersed during the wartime chaos and some of the works were replaced with forgeries. After leaving Yuanjin Temple, the present lot likely entered the collection of a certain Jiang of Ganquan (otherwise undocumented) and then was bought by Wu Dacheng (1835-1902) at the close of the 19th century. It was then passed on to Wu Hufan, who remounted it in 1938, wrote a long colophon on it, and impressed seals on its seams. As a work of calligraphy, this scroll is no doubt one of the finest examples of Shen Zhou’s writing in the style of Huang Tingjian. Every stroke is confident and crisp. Compact and held in formal tension, the characters are tilted but linked in a continuous and steady flow of energy, as if they were a natural phenomenon. In his inscription, Shen Zhou ends with a note of contentment, writing that he had “exhausted the length of the paper”. Having finished writing the poems, he was still inspired to write some more. This work of art is the closest to the Shiqi baoji version at the Taipei National Palace Museum in terms of calligraphic style. The museum's work is dated to 1508, and the present lot should date very close to this year.

Also notable is that Wu Hufan made three impressions of a “seam-riding” seal after he had the scroll remounted. The first impression can be found between the last and next to last sentence of the poem beginning with fangfei siri. Here is no obvious seams between pieces of paper, but the blank space shows signs of restoration. The second impression occurs before the poem beginning with fucheng nonghua. Here the paper suddenly darkens and shows a clear seam. Generally, the opening parts of a handscroll, bearing the most wear from unrolling and rolling, tend to suffer from discoloration most easily. The third impression occurs before the poem beginning with zuori fanhua. Here the paper’s color also changes, and shows an obvious seam, indicating that when Wu Hufan had the scroll remounted, he might have moved the five poems between fucheng nonghua and shier jietou from the middle part of the scroll in order to avoid further damage. Thus, the scroll in its original state started with the fucheng nonghua poem, which is consistent with the Jiyitang printed edition and Wen Zhengming’s manuscript in small regular script14.

1. Shen Yunhong, Shen Zhou’s eldest son, died on the seventeenth day of the eighth lunar month in 1502. See Chen Zhenghong, Shen Zhou Nianpu, Fudan University Press, 1993, p. 269.
2. In the eleventh lunar month of 1503, Shen Zhou buried his son and invited Wen Zhengming to write his epitaph (ibid., p. 272). Thus, it is not surprising that Shen Zhou showed Wen Zhengming his new poems.
3. Shitiangao (three volumes), printed by Huang Huai of Jiyitang, features prefaces by Peng Li (1443-?), Wu Kuan (1435-1504), Tong Xuan (14252-1498), and Li Dongyang (1447-1516), and postface colophons by Jin Yi (Early 16th Century) and Huang Huai. Shen Zhou was 77 years old at the time of the printing.
4. Wen Zhengming’s calligraphy in small regular script of the poems on falling flowers exists in two nearly identical versions respectively in the Suzhou Museum and formerly in the Xubaizhai collection (now in the Hong Kong Museum of Art). Experts disagree on which is authentic, but both contain the information relevant here.
5. See Wu Gangyi, Shen Zhou xiancun zhuzuo kanben yu Beijing Tushuguan guicang zhi shouchao guben Shitiangao zhi kaoshu, National Central Library Periodicals, 2002, vol 2, pp. 149-187. The Beijing Library Shitiangao manuscript (not divided into volumes) is likely the manuscript of the Jiyitang printed version. The manuscript contains only individual poems by Shen Zhou on falling flowers and not the ten poems discussed in this essay, which are collected in the Jiyitang version, indicating that some time elapsed between the manuscript and the printed version.
6. Fu Xinian (B. 1933) believed this work to be a Ming-period forgery, whereas Yang Renkai (1915-2008) found it to be authentic. For details, please refer to Zhongguo gudai shuhua tumu, vol. 7, Wenwu chuban she, 1989, p. 261; Yang Renkai, “Shen Zhou Luohuashi moji qianshi,” in Yang Renkai shuhua jianding ji, Henan meishu chuban she, 1999, p. 311-312.
7. Four Great Masters of the Ming Dynasty: Shen Zhou, National Palace Museum, 2014, p. 329.
8. Gao Shiqi, Jiangcun shuhua lu, Zhongguo shuhua quanshu, vol. 11, Shanghai shuhua chuban she, 2009, p. 326.
9. The Four Great Artists of the Ming Dynasty: Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming, Tang Ying and Qiu Ying, National History Museum, 1984, p. 87-89.
10. This poem on falling flowers is not among the thirty poems on the same theme by Shen Zhou discussed in this essay.
11. Lu Shihua, Wuyue suojian shuhua lu, Zhongguo shuhua quanshu, vol. 12, Shanghai shuhua chuban she, 2009, p. 546 and 642.
12. Zhang Chou, Zhenji rilu, Zhongguo shuhua quanshu, vol. 7, Shanghai shuhua chuban she, 2009, p. 17.
13. Gu Fu, Pingsheng zhuangguan, Shanghai guji chuban she, 2011, p. 161.
14. The various printed and manuscript versions of the poems on falling flowers vary slightly in ways that are not necessary to detail here.

Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy

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