Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The sense of distance and separation
Early Chinese literature used the expression, one thousand li, to evoke a sense of great distance. By the Han dynasty ¨ten thousand li¨ came into fashion. Poetic hyperbole required adjustment as geographical knowledge increased. Moreover, as geographical knowledge increased, poets could use contrasting natural environments to evoke a sense of distance and separation. The following lines from a poem written during the Han period illustrate a sentiment and the method employed to heighten it:
On and on, going on and on,
away from you to live apart,
ten thousand li and more between us,
each at opposite ends of the sky.
The road I travel is steep and long;
who knows when we meet again?
The Hu horse leans into the north wind;
The Yueh bird nests in southern branches;
day by day our parting grows more distant...¨
Yangtze river. Image from tourochina.ca
Hu is a term for the area north of China extending from Korea to Tibet; Yueh designates the area around the mouth of the Yangtze River. Thus an abstract hyperbole of distance, ten thousand li, is fleshed out with the imagery of two specific regions and their contrasting ecologies.
Space and Place. Yi-Fu Tuan. P.55. Spaciousness and Crowding. University of Minnesota, 2007