Though a country be sundered, hills and rivers endure;
And Spring comes green again to trees and grasses
Where petals have been shed like tears
And lonely birds have sung their grief.
— Du Fu (ca. 750 C.E.), from A Spring View, trans. Witter Brynner
Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu lived through many years of devastating warfare in his homeland in central China. The suffering he saw caused by war — disruption of lives, displacement of families, destruction of villages, death of innocents — inspired the central themes of his poetry. Living through such turbulent times, one could easily imagine becoming hopeless, depressed and despairing. One might even come to feel like life is not worth living. Yet in Du Fu’s poem, A Spring View, we feel instead the energy of regeneration, renewal and new growth after difficult times. With few words, this great Chinese poet transforms the despair of war into hope for the future.
Du Fu shows us the essense of Spring and the Wood element: regeneration, renewal, birth, hope, vision. The ancient Chinese were great observers of nature. Looking with imagination at the cycles of change in the world around them, they saw the deeper significance and larger themes manifesting in the ordinary events of life. They understood that the forces at work in the cosmos are also at work in human life. The cycle of the Five Elementswas their way of giving expression to that deeper understanding of the cosmos and the place of humanity within it.
The Chinese saw in plant life — Wood — the essential nature of Spring. No matter where you live, an unmistakeable sign of the coming of Spring is the regeneration and bursting forth of plant life. As anyone who has ever planted a tulip bulb knows, it is an act of faith and hope. It always seems miraculous when, as the weather warms and the Spring rains fall, the shoots finally pop up from under the soil.
Young plants burst forth with astonishing strength and vigor, but their growth is not unchecked. Each unfolds and develops according to an inner plan contained in the seed. Plant tulip bulbs, and you will always get tulips. Plant acorns, you get oaks. An essential quality of Wood energy is direction and plan. This directed and orderly quality of Wood gives life a sense of inner purpose, larger vision and destiny. Be the soil rich or poor, each seed will try to become what its inner blueprint dictates. At the same time, each will be unique, adapting to the conditions under which it grows. Flexibility and adaptability are important qualities of healthy Wood.
Imagine what life would be like without a sense of hope and vision for the future, without a sense of purpose and direction in life, and without the flexibility and adaptability to carry out a plan. A person might become depressed and paralyzed, unable to move forward on anything. Or, lacking a plan, she might throw oneself into activities willy-nilly, amounting to nothing in the long run. Alternatively, she might have a plan but stick to it so rigidly that it can never be successfully adapted to the conditions in which she finds herself. These are some of the ways that the spirit of Wood, when out of balance, may manifest in a person’s life. In future blog entries, we will continue to cover topics exploring the nature of Spring and the Wood element, including: the origins of Wood in Water; Wood energetics in the human psyche and soma; Wood and the emotion of anger.