What a lovely word “spring” is! Men have praised it since ancient times, hoping for it to stay in the human world forever. Poets, especially ci composers, cherish it with an especial deep love for spring. Try to leaf through the collection of ci (poetry) and you can find the character “春” (spring) on nearly every page. The descendants become used to listening to these and they naturally begin to love and chime in with those around them. Even those who do not really understand the loveliness of spring, while talking about it, they would feel a pleasant sensation. This is partly because the likeness is suggested by the word spring. Listen “Chun!” (spring) How sonorous, sleepy and lovely the sound flows! Notice how the formation of the character “春”is neatly arranged and symmetrically aesthetic! Thus, the season attached by such a beautiful name must also be lovely to think of. It seems the sound of a girl’s name “Li Hua” must remind us of a beautiful woman.
However, spring, in fact, is by no means such a pleasant season. With my experience of thirty-six years, I feel deeply that life before late spring is rather unpleasant.
The plum blossom in snow is said to be the harbinger of spring. But it is just a spring in the mind. Actually, there is still rain and snow and the north wind is still chilly cold. Is there any difference between spring and winter? The so-called spring ushers can just curl up in the cold behind the window or stand trembling under the eaves to watch the plum blossom on the dry twigs!
In another month, as in these days, the Waking of Insects (the third solar term) is over, known as half of the spring has passed. My friends living the cities think that villages at this time are picturesque and beautiful. They sent me a letter, urging me to write something about spring as if I were snuggling up to the spring and had provoked their jealous feelings. Actually, those living in the countryside to not enjoy the pleasures of spring. On the contrary, they suffer from the various discomforts; the thermometer shows a sharp change between thirty-six and sixty-two degrees. These abrupt temperature changes are all within a day. When it is hot, you may think of the ice-cream in the city; and when it is cold, you can see natural ice. You can taste the so-called “chill of spring” to the fullest. When you are away from home and the weather changes from sunny to rainy, your shoes often become sloppy when you return. “How many fine days we have within a spring season!”is true; but “We can hear spring rain falling in a small mansion all night!”is really nothing special. Actually, it is very boring and far inferior to the various wireless broadcasts in your city. Now half of spring is over, but it gives us no comfort. On the contrary, every day it makes us worry about the chill, warmth, wind and rain. In fact, “within the three portions of spring two for sorrows and one for wind and rain!”
In a spring scene, only the abrupt changes from warmth to cold and the unusual clearness after the rain is distinct. Although there are some beautiful spring sights, they are mostly dim. Only by careful search will you find traces of spring. Is this the so-called “seeking spring”? Someone says “Spring lies in the calls of the flower girls”, while others say “Spring lies in the pear flowers” and still others say “Spring flourishes on top of the red apricot tree”. However, this scene can hardly be found in our dull and lonely village. Even if we could find spring, we may not easily recognize it. In short, the beauty that spring brings to us is little and somewhat concealed. The uneasiness that spring gives to us is plenty and obvious. It seems as if poets and ci composers reveal this point as well. Aren’t spring chills, spring sleepiness, spring sorrow and the complaints in spring time frequent topics of their poetry? It is not the only case now, but even if a month later, when the Pure Brightness (the fifth solar term) arrives, it is not likely to be a charming and most pleasant time. And if it rains again, the many street pedestrians will become “heartbroken”.
From this we know that spring is not worth such a beautiful name, for in practical life it is rather unpleasant. Actually, the most pleasant season of the year begins in late spring. So far as weather is concerned, although in general it becomes warmer and warmer, it varies frequently. There is always the abrupt change from warmth to cold, we can find no time without weather change. It is until late spring when the influences of winter have completely disappeared that it gradually becomes warmer and warmer. When the mercury in the thermometer rises to temperate, it is just the temperate season. So far as the scenery is concerned, there is no need to seek out a spring scene, for there is a vast expanse of green hills which are pleasant to the eyes. An ancient poem goes: “The song of cuckoo symbolizes spring’s departure and hills turn green above the treetops.” It turns out that only when spring has gone will the hills become green and attractive. In my opinion, among the natural scenery, green grass and white snow are the greatest of phenomena. When God depicts nature on a huge scroll, he paints the red spring and colourful autumn with only a dab of carmine upon his brush and a little touch upon the paper. But when he paints white snow and green grass, he would spare no dye to immense his brush in the white lead powder, gardenia and cyanine and paint in big strokes, making all the houses white and all the hills green. It seems like the “details adding method” of landscape painting at the Michelangelo School and also like the “colour chunk method” of Cezanne landscape painting. What a pungent style it is! The vast expanse of green grass is especially affable and unselfish. Sometimes the flowers are secluded within the private yards, and having suffered from their private penalty by the gardeners, they apologize to the ladies and gentlemen, while grass can grow anywhere it likes with no distinction between superior and inferior classes. Everyone thinks that flowers are the product of spring. Actually, the work of spring lies not in flowers but in grass. How many people can enjoy flowers? But grass grows freely across the fields, and is generally accepted and appreciated. This kind of beautiful scenery is seldom seen in early spring. For then the fields are covered with dry grass, a desolate scene fills our eyes and gives us nothing but an unpleasant sensation. It is only in late spring when dry grass is replaced by lush fields and real blue mountain and green fields that the world would take on a new look. The view at this time of the year is the finest. And the kindness to man bestowed by Nature is the deepest.
The practical westerners have always paid attention to this season: they call it May. May is the most pleasant time of the year. There are various kinds of festive occasions in the human world, including the May-queen, the May-pole, May-games, etc. Originally, the word May means “youth” and “vigour”. From this we can see that westerners regard the month of May as the youth of a man, the most pleasant, happiest and the most excellent period of one’s life. It is really worthy of the name. However, easterners hold a different view: they call it late spring. It is a time of asking spring to stay, sending spring off, cherishing spring, grieving for spring and a time of sighing, grieving and sobbing. It’s no time for pleasure at all. The pleasure of easterners is in the new spring when half of the green willows begin turning yellow. It is a time of sudden shine, sudden rain, now warmth and now cold. One can never see time without change. Actually, at this time of the year, life is by no means comfortable. It is only through a careful examination of the budding of flowers and willows and a close examination of the arrival of spring in nature that we can have a pleasant sensation in our hearts. Thus, May in the western world is actually equal to Spring in the east. These words are both pleasant to the ears and good-looking to the eyes. But while May implies material and profit, Spring is spiritual and artistic. From this we can get a hint of cultural distinctions between the east and the west.