(old) Seven Worthies of the Bamboo GroveRhys Mumford2021-11-24T10:50:04+00:00
In the tumultuous Three Kingdoms period, the dangerous world of politics led seven friends to meet together in a bamboo forest, writing poetry, discoursing on philosophy, and enjoying the natural world. Some of the seven retained official roles, while others turned their backs on politics entirely. The seven as a whole became important icons in a long tradition of abandoning the stifling world of hypocritical politics for a life of the mind.
Bamboo Grove Worthies
Born into privilege and position in the Wei court, Ruan Ji (阮籍) developed a reputation for eccentricity and drunkenness, allowing him to avoid many of the perils of political intrigue. He shocked society of the time with his refusal to honour convention and eventually left court life completely. Ruan Ji was a man of singular character who, despite his carefully cultivated image of drunken iconoclast, wrote poems of profound melancholy and beauty.
Anxious to avoid giving his blessing to a political marriage alliance he viewed as dangerous, Ruan Ji escaped trouble by deliberately remaining drunk for 60 days.
A fine player of the qin 琴, Ruan Ji is credited with composing the popular guqin standard 酒狂 Drunken Ecstasy
Ruan Ji was the close friend/lover of Ji Kang, another worthy of the bamboo grove.
Poetry Collection Songs of my Heart (咏懷詩) - 82 poems written in 5 character form
Several 賦 poems
Commentaries on the Zhuangzi, Laozi, the Book of Changes, Discourse on the Man of Great Influence.
Songs of my Heart No.32 咏懷詩
The morning sun will never be at its peak again...
...The day suddenly grows tired in the West
This parting is as brief as a nod of the head...
...How can it be as long as an autumn?
Human life is like dew in the dust... ...How long, how vast, is the way of Heaven!
Duke Jing of Qi ascended Ox Mountain...
...Tears fell down his face like crossing streams.
Sage Confucius looked over the long river...
...Lamenting time, so swiftly floating by.
What is past I cannot reach again...
...And what is to come I cannot keep.
I wish I could climb Tai Hua Mountain...
...Roam up there with Songzi the immortal.
The fisherman knew the sufferings of the world...
...Taking a little skiff, he floated along with the currents.
Jī Kāng (嵇康), or Xī Kāng, owned the house near which the Seven Worthies met. Ji Kang turned his back on high position at court in favour of pursuing immortality. Close to Ruan Ji, Ji Kang never quite pulled off his friend's trick of eccentric disengagement, and his iconoclasm took a more outspoken form. Eventually his counter-cultural lifestyle and personal grudges against him led to his execution by the state.
"I seek the art of self-cultivation, casting aside fame and glory, forsaking rich flavours, letting my heart wander free in stillness, taking non-action as precious."
Excerpt from letter written refusing office
Xiàng Xiù (向秀) was a philosopher who embraced the ideas of relativism and wrote an extensive commentary on the Zhuangzi. A good friend of Ruan Ji and Ji Kang, he was forced to take up a series of official posts after Ji Kang's execution. He is also famous for his work of poetry 思舊賦, lamenting the death of Ji Kang and Lü An.
Liú Líng (劉伶) is known for the poem Ode to the Virtues of Wine (酒德頌) and his life was a living testimony to this. His legendary love of drinking - which he said facilitated his 'free and easy wandering' - gave rise to colourful anecdotes. In philosophy a thoroughgoing Daoist, Liú Líng espoused ruling through non-action and embraced Zhuangzi's concepts of total relativity which breaks down all distinctions.
"I regard heaven and earth as my house and this room as my trousers. So what are all of you gentlemen doing in my trousers?"
Guests of Liu Ling are surprised to find him stark naked. Unperturbed, Liu Ling returns this philosophical bon mot.
Ruan Xian (阮咸) was the nephew of Ruan Ji and seems to have shared his uncle’s taste for theatrical subverting of political norms. One example is artificially widening his trousers with bamboo sticks to mock the ostentation of court life. He played a form of lute (琵琶) with two round holes, later named ruan in his honour.
Wáng Róng (王戎) is mainly remembered for being rich, owning large tracts of land and maintaining a successful political career. He was also a connoisseur of poetry and literary works and an exponent of 'pure conversation' - the philosophical talk that was an ideal of the time. As little survives of Wáng Róng's thought, he is a victim of history, with his main claim to fame being avarice.
Shān Tāo (山濤) was related by marriage to the powerful regent Sima Yi, linking him to the newly ascendant regime. Shan Tao tried to recruit Ji Kang to a political post. This gave rise to one of Ji Kang's 'severing friendship' letters, in which he outlines the reasons he would make a terrible official. Despite this apparent rupture, when Ji Kang was facing execution, it was Shan Tao whom he entrusted to raise his child.