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Answering Magistrate Chang

Published on January 2017 | Categories: Documents | Downloads: 7 | Comments: 0



Emi Okayasu ENGL 210 Professor C. Engbers 5 September 2007 Dear Professor Engbers, I have been writing this paper in my head for a long time. Not only will it be your first impression of me and my thoughts that rarely get expressed in the environment in which we usually meet, it is also a rite of passage of sorts. The first essay. The one in which I test the waters a little bit: I write something that I hope will impress and astound, waiting to see how you respond. I’ve never disagreed with a professor before. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not much of a risk taker. I even had to preface this essay with a caveat of sorts to justify my actions. I’m not even sure that I’ll turn this in. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll just hand you an essay about Gilgamesh’s affinity for his axe. I’ve never disagreed with a professor before. It’s a weird feeling, a sort of self-doubt, rebelliousness and extreme timidity all mixed together. It is easy to see how Wang Wei’s poem could be interpreted expressively and mimetically. Wang Wei lived in a divided, warring China, just after the weakening of the Zhou Dynasty. He would have plenty of reasons to ruminate on the passing of empires. It is much harder, however, to see this poem from a pragmatic and objective point of view. If Magistrate Chang had been reading this poem, however, I think he would have seen it this way. More than the wisdom of the sage, Magistrate Chang would seek to find out how he could apply the purpose of the poem to his own life, studying the nuances of Wang Wei’s answer for every possible meaning. I really try to appreciate poetry, but I have a hard time understanding its often ethereal, abstract concepts and connotations. Perhaps I lean too far towards the “expressive” end of Abrams’ continuum for my own good. I get so caught up in trying to decipher what the author is trying to say that I drown out half of the dialogue going on in my head. Or, perhaps I am just wired to be one of those engineering majors. It is true, however, that I placed myself deep within “quadrant III” of Abrams’ coordinate plane, between “expressive” and “mimetic”. Wang Wei takes a crack at this age old question in his poem, indirectly revealing something much more valuable than what Magistrate Chang was seeking in the first place. Though historians have hypothesized many plausible reasons to explain this relentless cycle of rebirth and decay, I think Wang Wei’s ambiguous answer transcends the barriers of language, culture, and history to

“You ask me why the world must rise and fall”. I think the essence of the poem “Answering Magistrate Chang” is found in this line. As we study the periodic “rise and fall” of civilizations this semester, Magistrate Chang’s query appears time and again, yet no satisfactory answer to this question ever seems to present itself. Though many historians have proposed hypotheses to explain the passing of empires, the dialogue between Magistrate Chang and Wang Wei brings a more satisfying sense of finality than the rational theories of scholars. If Magistrate Chang had been reading this poem, I think he would have interpreted it from a pragmatic and objective point of view. More than the wisdom of the sage, Magistrate Chang would have assiduously sought to find out how he could apply the purpose of the poem to his own life, studying the nuances of the sage’s rather ambiguous answer for every applicable meaning. The Magistrate seeks the answer that scholars have been guessing at for centuries. Wang Wei, however, would probably have interpreted this poem from the opposite perspective. He would have considered that the author lived in a divided, warring China, and accepted that not all of life’s answers were clear cut and readily explicable. I read this poem from the old man’s perspective. Even if I thirst to know the answers to life’s passing, I think the wise man was indeed wise not to give the Magistrate what he was looking for. The young Magistrate sought to succeed in life by seeking advice, which, in itself, is not a bad end. Being the pragmatic Magistrate that he was, he also sought to apply this advice to his own life, which is also not a bad end. Though applying a Biblical perspective or our own contemporary worldviews to our interpretations of this poem can yield valuable conclusions, it is also very easy to get overzealous and drown out the calm advice of the old man. Sometimes, we search too hard for answers that we may not know. When we accept this reality, as Wang Wei intended for the Magistrate to do, we may be satisfied with answers that seem completely irrelevant. “The fisherman’s song reaches deep over the shore.”

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