A Painting of Nomadic Horsemen: On a Painting of Nomadic Horsemen

COOL POEMS: Introduction > THE POEMS

Topic: A Painting of Nomadic Horsemen

Author: Mei Yaochen (1002-1060)

On a Painting of Nomadic Horsemen

Following the hunt, he reclines on crimson brocade;
His saddle unslung, he rests from riding the arrid waste.
Grey, brown, white—sixty head or more,
In shaded valley or sunlit slope, they fan their tails and manes.
Nine camels, five oxen, more than twice that number of sheep,
On evening steppes they flock, growing in the chill wind.
Rich and poor, old and young, five hundred—you can count;
Painted so well the pose and mood of each is unique.
Two falcons rest on trainer’s arm, two upon a perch;
It looks as if those eager hounds would gladly test their worth.
Felt-made yurts are neatly arrayed, large tents clustered close.
Drum and horn have not yet sounded to startle the wild geese.
High upon the earthen hills they set their blazing beacon;
In animal skin pouches, they may rest their bows and knives.
From a spring beside the camp, they draw the water they need,
while the long river silently flows, endlessly, on and on.
How skilful the brush that painted all six, each on plain, white silk;
So superb was Hu Huai’s skill, who could ever fathom it?
Nowadays in the capital are many connoisseurs,
And those connoisseurs applaud the taste of Liu Yuanzhong.

Comments: This poem shows us how an educated man would appreciate a painting in the mid-11th century. Note that he observes carefully the number and character of each kind of person, animal, or artifact, what they are doing, or what physical qualities they possess. This required a rather naturalistic style such as that typical of mid-eleventh-century China. Mei also presumes that the nomadic peoples portrayed possess individual feelings and moods and that these moods are worth portraying in paint. This isn’t to be taken for granted. Not all societies regard the individual moods of foreigners as worthy of artistic portrayal. Toward the end the poet makes reference to the artistic canon, Hu Huai’s place in the history of art, and the art market with its experts who ultimately determine what is or isnt’ a masterpiece. Were one to find a poem like this amidst the ruins of Mars, one could definitely conclude that this civilization had an art market along with art histories and a canon of masters.

Back to top