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under different thematic categories such as «Singing of One’s Heart» (yonghuai 詠懷), «Beckoning the Recluse» (zhaoyin 招隱) or «Sightseeing» (youlan 遊覽). Thematically, the youxian verse describes higher realms of nature and mystic cosmic flights in search of perfected and eternal life. While written by court poets and a part of «secular» poetry, the themes, imagery and motifs the youxian verse employs are essentially religious – which to a large degree accounted for the low regard in which traditional Chinese literary criticism held this type of poetry. This «otherworldly» poetic current was closely connected with the cult of the xian 仙 (conventionally, albeit imprecisely translated as immortals or transcendents), which was consistently developing within the context of Daoist religion since the Han dynasty. One of the central themes of the youxian verse, as indicated by its very name, is the roaming you 遊/ 游 (with general connotations of leisurely, easy and playful roaming). Indeed, besides the title «Youxian», poems on immortality often bear titles indicative of cosmic travels, such as «Yuanyou» 遠遊 («Distant Journey»)

company a shamanistic ritual of invocation, perhaps a religious dance or pantomime. The cosmic journey theme is also at the core of the «Lisao» 離騷 («Encounter with

Bao Zhao 鮑照, Liu Xiaosheng 劉孝勝, Lu Sidao 盧思道), «Lingxiao» 凌霄(«Skimming the Empyrean», a rhapsody by Lu Ji 陸機), etc. However, in different periods and in different social milieu the theme of roaming you could be imbued with very different meanings. Considerations of these transformations can provide us also with an insight into the changing meanings and function of the youxian poetry in general and its relation to the other poetic developments of the period. The idea of a flight beyond the human world has been intimately connected with the xian-immortality ever since the origin of the immortality cult at the end of the 4th century BC. The old form of the term xian – 僊 (used for example in the «Shiji») was probably derived from an archaic pictogram of a body with wings. General belief during the Han period held that through appropriate practices the body of the immortality adept would start to grow feathers and his arms would transform into wings. One of the major sources of the youxian verse are the descriptions of unrestrained cosmic wanderings in early Daoist texts such as «Zhuangzi» and «Huainanzi». The «free and easy roaming», xiaoyao you 逍遙遊, epitomizes ultimate freedom, spontaineity and cosmic potency and appears as a hallmark of the Accomplished Men (至人), the Divine Men (神人), the True Men (真人). Of equal, if not even more crucial importance to the youxian verse were the accounts of distant celestial journeys as developed in the poetry of the «Chuci» 楚辭 anthology (early IIIrd cent. BC to early IInd cent. AD). «Chuci» abounds in vivid descriptions of cosmic flights in chariots drawn by flying dragons or a phoenix, with retinues of gods and spirits. This theme is well developed in the most ancient «Chuci» poems – in the «Jiuge» 九歌 («Nine Songs») which were apparently designed to ac-

Sorrow») attributed to Qu Yuan 屈原 (late IVth – early IIIrd century BC), where it is partly secularised and transformed into an allegorical expression of the poet’s resentments and sorrows. A further transformation of the theme of cosmic flight can be observed in the «Yuanyou» 遠遊 («Distant Journey») poem which dates back to the second half of the IInd century BC and is considered to be the direct forerunner of the subsequent youxian verse. This composition describes the mystical journey of a Daoist adept through the whole cosmos which ends in ecstatic oneness with the Dao itself. The cosmic journey described in the «Yuanyou» is immediately prompted by the feelings of frustration and sorrow, connected with the protagonist’s afflictions in the human world of his time. The poet apprehends the corruption of the present world and the continuing advance of time and decides to follow the example of the famous immortals of the past, rise beyond the dusty world and embark on a distant, free roaming. What distinguishes the cosmic journey in «Yuanyou» from those in the earlier «Chuci» pieces, is that it is detached from the quest theme. It is motivated neither by a search for a divine mate (as in the «Jiuge») nor for an appreciative ruler (as in «Lisao»), but is conceived as a successive process of achieving immortality. At the key points of his cosmic circuit the protagonist acquires additional knowledge and powers which propel him to the next phase of his pilgrimage. Essential stages are a preliminary instruction from the ancient immortal Wang Ziqiao, purification and transformation of the body through physiological and meditative Daoist practices and absorption of elixir substances. There follows a ritual circuit of all the coordinates of the universe, during which the traveler pays respects to the guardian spirits of the four directions. One of the last stages is a ritual banquet in the presence of divine women and heavenly music, which exalts the hero to the highest spheres. At the culmination of the ecstatic cosmic circuit he is transported to the Grand Primordium (Taichu 太初), where the Dao is found in its most essential form. It is the act of traveling itself that engenders special powers, induces a change of the travelers’ state of being and leads to an ecstatic union with the Dao. The sao model of linking the cosmic journey with the lament over the human world determined the mode of expression in the subsequent youxian poetry. However, both the journey theme and the theme of anguish underwent major transformation in the post-Han poetry. Towards the end of the Han human transience, physical deterioration itself, became a significant theme in poetry, as illustrated by the poetic cycle «Gushi shijiu shou» 古詩十九首 («Nineteen Old Poems»). Frustration and sorrow connected with the awareness of the impermanence of one’s life permeate most of the youxian verse of the IIIrd century (Cao Cao 曹操, Cao Zhi, Ruan Ji 阮籍, Xi Kang 嵇康, etc.). In the yuefu and shi poetry of this period the cosmic journey appears in much simplified and schematic form. Abrupt shifts in diction and themes are typical. While in the «Chuci» tradition it is possible to discern a fairly uniform journey plot,



(contained in «Chuci» and one poem by Cao Zhi 曹植), «Wuyou» 五遊 («Five-fold Roaming» by Cao Zhi), «Shengtian» 升天 («Ascending to Heaven» by Cao Zhi,

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393 395 394 1 According to the «Wenxuan» commentator Li Shan 李善the Magic Gorge/Stream (靈谿) is the name of an actual river, whereas the expre...


393 395 394 1 According to the «Wenxuan» commentator Li Shan 李善the Magic Gorge/Stream (靈谿) is the name of an actual river, whereas the expre...

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