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Preface to the Collection of Monk Bi-yan's Poems

Ou-yang, Xiu (1007 A.D.-1072 A.D.)

    After I passed the advanced exam at a young age, I traveled through the capital and, thereby, was able to make friends with all the contemporary wise and virtuous people. Our kingdom had conquered the Four Seas 1 and ended the war. The peace had allowed our nation to rest and prosper for forty years. However, in my opinion, there were still people with rare gifts and bold strategy who preferred to live in seclusion unless the government would make special efforts to utilize their talents. These recluses either hid in mountain forests or pursued an occupation like monk or peddler. Their talent is never utilized as they become old and die. I tried to search for these talented men without success.

    Afterwards, I found my late friend, Man-qing. He had high aspirations. The government was unable to utilize his talent. Man-qing did not accommodate himself to fit available positions. He had no way to fulfill his dreams, so he visited old people in the country, enjoyed drinking to excess, and did not mind even if his manners looked unconventional and unrestrained. I suspected that only by getting to know these recluses intimately could one gain their trust and discover their talents. Therefore, I loved to visit Man-qing and secretly hoped that I could find all the talented people through him.

    Monk Bi-yan had a long-standing friendship with Man-qing and was able to detach himself from worldly affairs. Encouraging each other to value integrity, the two men enjoyed a seamless friendship. Man-qing hid himself in wine; Bi-yan hid himself in Buddhism. Both of them were remarkable men. Bi-yan loved to amuse himself by improvising poetry. When he became intoxicated, he would sing songs, recite poetry and laugh boisterously. How magnificent his approach was when he sought the ultimate happiness. All the contemporary scholars loved to befriend him. I frequented his house as well. Over the course of the next ten years, Monk Bi-yan traveled north across the Yellow River and east to Yun-cheng City of the State of Ji 2. He did not find anyone who could share his interests. Frustrated by poverty and disappointment, he finally returned home. Sadly, at this time, Man-qing died and Monk Bi-yan was old and sick. Having observed the peak and decline of both men, I have also become old.

    Man-qing, whose poems were uniquely creative, lavishly praised Monk Bi-yan's writing. He considered Bi-yan's poems graceful, bold and imbued with poetic quality. Monk Bi-yan was a man of great stature who had a big heart. After he become a Buddhist, his talent could not be utilized. Only his poems could be passed down to future generations. However, he was too lazy to save his poems. When he was old, he opened his book bag and found more than three hundred of his poems. All of them were beautiful. After Man-qing died, Monk Bi-yan became depressed and did not know where to go. He had been told that there are many mountains and rivers in the southeast and that the lofty peaks, steep cliffs and the dashing of great waves are grand and imposing. Therefore, he decided to visit these beautiful sites. This decision is sufficient to show that his ambitions remain despite his old age. Before the start of his journey, I have written this preface to the collection of his poems. I lament his decline by telling the story of his life in its prime.

1 The "Four Seas" means "four directions". Er-ya (an ancient book which interprets the bibles and antiques) says, "The nine Yi tribes (barbarian tribes in eastern China), the eight Di tribes (barbarian tribes in northern China), the seven Rong tribes (barbarian tribes in western China), and the six Man tribes (barbarian tribes in southern China) together are called the Four Seas."

2 The State of Ji is now called Shangdong Province.