[FOUNTAIN]The wisdom of silence

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[FOUNTAIN]The wisdom of silence

In the fall of 816, Bai Juyi, a gifted Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty who was then relegated to a low-profile office in Changxi, was seeing off a friend beside a river when he produced an elegant poem, “The Song of the Pipa Player.” Bai retired to a small boat to sip a drink as he was about to see his friend off. Then came the lugubrious melody of the pipa drifting to his ears.
Bai traced the sound to a middle-aged woman who had been exiled to the far end of the country, Changxi. She had been a prostitute and was playing the pipa. Lines that describe the pipa run as follows: “The bold strings rattled like splatters of sudden rain. The fine strings hummed like lovers’ whispers, chattering and pattering, pattering and chattering, as pearls, large and small, on a jade plate fall.” The Chinese claim this as the best part of the poem, since the beauty of Chinese characters as ideographs are so wonderfully represented.
Bai’s elegant poem then continues: “The sweet melody recalls orioles singing among flowers. The sobbing music brings the gushing springs out of the glacier. The spring frozen, the strings ceased vibration. The water stopped flowing and silence set in.”
This is where silence tells more than sound. But of all his spell-binding descriptions of pipa, the following won his successors’ highest praise.
“The mournfulness settled at the deepest place of my heart comes afloat, as tranquility overwhelms sound.”
As a musical instrument the pipa certainly produces beautiful sounds. But it is when the music comes to an abrupt end that a greater sympathy resonates among people than when the music is heard.
Tranquility overwhelms sound. Bai, who feels the inanity of life in the midst of exile and frustration, empathizes with and joins the desolation of the retired prostitute who is headed toward the final chapter of her life. When the sound stopped, the feelings of two people coincide with one another in an ironic yet accomplished way. In other words, non-sonitum resonates more greatly than sonitum.
The president is concerned about communication.
Since the new year, politicians and the public have loudly drummed on about this problem of communication. It is said that “great words lie rather in sparing words and great benevolence does not lie in presented benevolence.” In no wisdom of the East can one find a lesson whereby a great mind became exhalted by way of noisy, empty talking.
Let us learn the wisdom of silence and less talk, for the sake of greater communication.

*The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Yoo Kwang-jong
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