World in a Dew Drop
From the ”Anthology of the Chinese Lyrical Poetry” by Miloš Crnjanski from 1923, until the end of the past millennium, the best names of Serbian literature wrote about China. Miodrag Pavlović, Stevan Raičković, Vasko Popa, Dragoslav Andrić... The magnetism and depth of China, its antiquity and wise austerity, the language of archetypes and intimacy of the entire universe, have encountered elevated responses among the Serbs. Everyone will choose according to their measure but, in any case, it is a solid foundation for the Serbian-Chinese cultural bridges ”in the future that we have met, in the past that is yet to come”

By: Branislav Matić

Millions of silences and distances have passed, nameless and difficult to observe. China appeared on the horizon of Serbian culture, first of all literature, in the 20th century. It is not much different in other European cultures. An occasional earlier case is worth mentioning just as a curiosity. (Dragoslav Andrić: ”Marco Polo? It is not China’s contact with the West, but the West with China, missed, anyway, because Venice continued to keep its binoculars pointed in that direction only backwards.”)
Once it appeared ”in the ring of the eyesight” of Serbian literature, the best authors wrote about China. Her magnetism and depth, her antiquity, in other words sacredness, the dedication in every movement and action, wise austerity of words, the language of myth and archetype, the radiation of powerful symbols, intimacy of the entire universe, her all in all, that world in a dew drop, quickly found their reflections in Serbian literature. This is undoubtedly a topic of a major study and academic work. .. For this occasion, preparing for Serbia’s appearance at the Beijing International Book Fair 2019, we will mention some of that. What we consider the most important at first sight. Let’s take this as a cue the discussions that will be continued in the northern capital of China.


”The peak of everything translucent, calm, eternal, ethereal, which can be reached by spirit and feelings.” This is how the twenty nine year old Miloš Crnjanski experiences Chinese and Japanese poetry, which he translated in Paris, shortly after the Great War, and creates its first anthology in Serbian. ”This anthology of mine is, of course, the first work of this kind in our country. (...)The hardest part of my work was, therefore, the selection of the text. Thus, in Paris, having established the text, I spent long and bright nights in museums, which never touched the ground from the sight, but only touched the tip of the silver reed, on old silk. They would lead me to a peaceful smile, with which one can only understood the text of Lao Tzu. Afternoons in the half-lit museum Guimet, before the spring arrived, with the stone heads around whose lips hovers a soft, hazy smile, helped me more than all the dictionaries and lexicons of the London sinologists.”
Crnjanski’s anthology embeds all the most important threads of Chinese poetry. Book of Changes, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Li Tai Po, Du Fu, Wang Wei. ”Cherries in China” led to Sumatraism to the unsurpassed ”substance of pure lyricism” that we recognize at the core of the verses of Crnjanski himself, especially where he reaches his own peaks.
Crnjanski writes to his Belgrade publisher Svetislav B. Cvijanović from Paris on January 30, 1921: ”...I have two things and one I would very much gladly give to you, because of that debt. One is Chinese and Japanese songs, about 60 of them, from English and French collections. People swallow them here. I have met two Chinamen at the university, they help me and review and advise. I would also write a longer article on Chinese and Japanese lyrical poetry and philosophy. That would go well. Do you want it?”
Cvijanović, for his own reasons, did not want this. But the Publishing Bookstore ”Progress” did. The Anthology of Chinese Lyrical Poetrywas published in Belgrade in 1923, and since then, just like the Poems of Old Japan from 1928, it had numerous editions. Both of these titles left an important mark in Serbian literature and were an impetus for later anthologies of Chinese poetry in Serbian, significantly influencing the experience of the Far East in Serbian culture.


In the last quarter of the 20th century, during the socialist Yugoslavia and after the Cultural Revolution in China, a number of great Serbian poets and writers were allowed to go on study tours in the most populous country in the world. These were well thought-through visits, with translators and selected interviewees, as well as visits to important places of Chinese social life, culture and sacral geography. Without much dilemma, one might say that Miodrag Pavlović, the great poet, essayist, and anthologist, went farthest on one of such trips. In September 1979, he arrived there after a long night flight over Anatolia, the Black Sea, Tehran. He will testify about this in a travelogue published three years later in the Gradina magazine from Niš (”China – The Eye on the Road”, 1982), and later in the book China from 1995. ”Even the rumbling of the engine, or stomping of the airplane through the night, or the movement of Chinese flight attendants cannot influence the fact that I felt deep inside: the time has stopped, and my understanding of its lockout is perfect.”
At the Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, the great poet talks about Chinese poetry, symbolism, folklore. Visits the Imperial Forbidden City. During long meals, almost ceremonial, he becomes familiar with the philosophy of Chinese cuisine from within. Through archaeological findings, he pries into the interior spaces of the Chinese myth. He takes a night train to Yungang, one of the three large groups of Buddhist caves, 380 kilometers northwest of Beijing. In Datong, a city of almost a million, which he had never heard before, he absorbs images of everyday life, filled with curiosity and astonishment. He learns important things about Chinese understanding of death and burial. He is delighted with the smoke-filled Chinese Opera, that encounter with ”a true, unspoiled people and elevated noble art, which is at the same time his and new, elegant and so deeply human”. Before the graves of the Ming Dynasty emperors, he writes: ”This is what Confucianism is, in the name of which this art was re-created. Solid, firm, somewhere distorted, without much imagination and sense of surprise, literal and not completely adjusted to the created spaces of nature. As if I were looking at processions of courtiers during a picnic.” Unlike Ezra Pound, the great admirer of Confucianism, Pavlović is much closer to Buddhist sacredness.


”... Even the Chinese wall is the creation of such a spirit that wants to keep the center and knows that it has something to keep”, writes the Serbian poet during a visit to this magnificent building. ”The military efficiency of the wall, I realized when I saw it, could never have been particularly great. The effectiveness was in the soul and in the consciousness, in the knowledge that it is possible to draw one clear line toward the chaotic, unknown and surprising. (...) The parts of the wall I saw were made of finely carved stone, with elegant curves, aesthetically calculated inclinations, and carefully fitted into the hilly syntax of the surroundings.”
Miodrag Pavlović also reached Sichuan Province, in the south of the central part of China, east of the Tibetan plateau, in the upper Yangtze River. On the way from the city of Chengdu to the Arvan-Mio Dam, he writes a poem that begins like this: ”All of you that I met going to the Sunday pastime on your bikes...” Again he has inspiring encounters and conversations, for example about mythology and mysticism of Yi tribes, passes through new secret chambers of the delicate Chinese cuisine. Marches toward Li Bai and Du Fu, perhaps the greatest Chinese poets from the 8th century AD; they both lived in Sichuan. He talks with painters who create with traditional Chinese techniques. Everything they created before him, in ink or watercolor, they give to him. Would not take money for it.
”At night, the bird carries the Moon over the sky. The Great Mother sits on the throne leaning against a tiger and a dragon. She is guarded by a nine-tailed dog. A man from the times of the Eastern Han Dynasty presented himself bowing to his ancestors. (...)”
Seven hours of traveling to Nanking. Then Shanghai. New worlds, new ”huge chapters of the Chinese secret”. Museums, parks, antique shops, crisscrossed bridges over waters filled with rose petals, calligraphic poetry workshops, painting in the rolls of papyrus or on silk, deities made of jade.
”Incredible, there are still three days left in Shanghai and one and a half in Beijing. The time began by stopping, and continued to run faster. I would like to slow it down somehow. (...)After one journey, a man is left with many debts he cannot repay, memories that come back in unforeseen moments, the need to leaf through pages of diaries and talk in his thoughts with people to whom he has not written letters of gratitude... Dear things also remain which we did not tell until the end in the stories. And the very end of the journey remains vague and ungrasped. (...)One trace remains behind me, made of these dreams, looking like a mixture of smoke and curdled blood. Occasionally shines and I look forward to it.”
You can read some excerpts from this travelogue by Miodrag Pavlović on the following pages. Along with these extraordinary travelogues (signed in 1995 by the same editorial hand as this edition before you), Pavlović added his selection from ancient Chinese myths, a selection from the famous Chinese anthology the Source of Old Poems (Gu Shi Yuan), from the Book of Poems (Shijing), from Chu Ci. His selection of Taoist poetry is based on four great poets (Li Po, Wan Wei, Li Shangyin, Huan Tan). From Confucius’s Analects he selected one poem, as well as from Baocin o Pu Min. Three chapters from the book Science and Civilizations in China by Sir Joseph Needham are translated: ”On Alchemy and Chemistry”, ”On Souls Hun and Fo”, ”Wandering the Cosmos”. As the final touch and icing on top, comes a short selection from Chinese literature of the 20th century, featuring Hu She, Zhangke Jia, Dai Wangshu, Lao She...
All this was translated by Zorana Jeremić, Ljilјana Đurović, Nada Saratlić and Miodrag Pavlović himself. With full self-awareness: ”I tremble and fear, / Day is heavier than the day. / People do not stumble upon the mountain, / They stumble upon the tomb.”


Stevan Raičković certainly has a special place among the Serbian poets who wrote about China in the last quarter of the 20th century. And he dedicated an entire book of poetry to these echoes of on China in him, and reflections of himself in the Chinese mirror. The Chinese Story was published by BIGZ in 1995, more than twelve years after the poet’s journey to China. An encouragement for this ”harvest of echoes”, for the ”diary in the retrospect”, were two manuscripts that landed on his desk. A collection of old Chinese short stories, later a large collection of Chinese poetry, both translated by Ada Zečević and Mirjana Đurđević. It is hard to say which image flared up in the poet’s mind, what exactly led his hand toward the old folder. On the following pages you can read his introduction and excerpt for the Chinese Story, as packed by the editor Miroslav Maksimović.
Self-burdened from the inside by the language barriers, Raičković traveled through China from himself, not through eyes and words of others, no matter how knowledgeable. We see him (and he sees himself) in Beijing one night as he is listening to the huge swarm of football fans spreading out from a stadium after the game. With Crnjanski, on an imaginary dinner in Yang Zhou, he searches through cherries in China and memories of his dead friends. He explores rice plaster on an old stone palace in Nanking. On a pond called Black Dragon, in a park of the southern Chinese capital, he finds black and white panda cubs and a little house irresistibly attached to with his own life. In Su Zhou he reads through the language of the fingers of female workers in the silk embroidery factory. In a conversation with a Buddhist monk, with the shortest possible name, he suddenly becomes aware of the size of the veil through which he has been looking at the world. In Shanghai, getting lost in a remote neighborhood, he discovers the Jade Buddha Temple and thinks that all his past life was only a dream. Near the town of Yi Zhi he attends a funeral: an old peasants is handed over into the fields he had been farming. In the Palace of Listening to the Wind in the Pines he meets a poet who had been a scarecrow for birds in the fields for four years, at the time of the Cultural Revolution. In a Beijing store, buying silk for many women, he chooses as if he is doing that for only one. The only one.
And from all that, Stevan’s Chinese Story was built, so close to us, born in the last millennium.


Along with the aforementioned Anthology of the Chinese Lyrical Poetry by Miloš Crnjanski (1923), the Anthology of the Old Chinese Poetry by Mirjana Đurđević and Ada Zečević (1995), Anthology of Contemporary Chinese poetry by Chang Xianghu (translated by Radosav Pušić, 1994), the Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry by Dragoslav Andrić stands out among the selections from Chinese literature. It’s most complete and most beautiful edition is the one from Novi Sad, from 2004. Andrić made a selection, comparative translations from French, English, German and Russian, wrote accompanying texts.
”Of all Chinese dimensions, it seems that the time dimension is the most difficult to adapt to the European vision”, he writes. ”It is also most responsible for such differences in the psychological perspective.”
He distributed the enormous material and a large time span into eleven interesting units, the titles of which already speak volumes:
Time Conceived by Word (Book of Poems, 11th – 6th century BC). Eye in Eye with Antiquity (The Era of Warring Kingdoms, 4th – 3rd century BC). Following the Trace of Scattered Messages (Han Dynasty Era, 206 BC – 219 AD). Echoes from the End of the World (Bei Dynasty era, 220–265. Qin Dynasty, 265–419). Vision behind the Closed Eyes (Era of Southern and Northern Dynasties, 420–581. From Sui Dynasty, 581–617). World in a Dew Drop (Tang Dynasty Era, 618–907). Yellow Heron Pavilion (Five Dynasties Era, 907–959). Behind the Pearl Curtain (Song Dynasty Era, 960–1279). Reaped Smiles (Jin Dynasty Era, 1115–1234, and Juan Dynasty, 1260–1367). Circles on Still Water (Ming Dynasty Era, 1368–1643). Entrenched Memory (the first century and a half of Qing Dynasty, 1644. until the end of the 18th century).
Along with the usual apparatus, anthology is equipped with important accessories: ”Legends, Dynasties, Dates” and ”Poets, Lives, Poems”. There are also collections of selected reproductions.
Therefore, before us now is a lot ”that has been proven by a poem, somewhere far away and long ago, in its centuries-long search for man”. The ocean to which it must sail out in order to understand, at least in the contours, its infinity.
We said, we could only mention a part, what seemed to be the most important in our field of vision. Someone else could have put it differently. In any case, it is a broad and solid foundation for the Serbian-Chinese cultural bridges ”in the future we have met, in the past that is yet to come”.


The Flowers of Battle
Vasko Popa, another key poet of Serbian modernity after World War Two, also had his important trip to China. He is there in 1980, exactly between Miodrag Pavlović (1979) and Stevan Raičković (1982). Popa’s poems ”Bowl of Nutritious Snow” and ”Fruits of Battle”, published a year later in his book The cut (1981), were created in China and are directly connected to this country. The book ”Night Contest”, written in Beijing in 1980, is included in subsequent editions Houses in the Middle of the Road (a selection of poems entitled ”Weather Vane”).


Golden Dust
By the depth of his understanding David Albahari stands out among the Serbian writers and poets who took upon themselves to translate difficult texts from ancient Chinese treasuries, mostly from European language. See, for example, his translation of Ji Jing (Book of Changes), the eighth edition of which was published in Gornji Milanovac in 1990, or The Secret of the Golden Flower (Chinese Book of Life) published by ”Gradina” from Niš. Some of the golden dust from this golden flower can be recognized, sometimes, in Albahari’s prose.


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