菩薩蠻.木棉花

Posted: July 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

雲開烈日枝間照,
棉花弄影驚枝鳥。
終日伴雞窗,
年年聽序庠。
夏來飛絮嘉,
片片谷風嫁。
縱有疾蟲侵,
明年又成蔭。

平仄力求完善,惟尚有未周處,還望指教。

Advertisements

青玉案.憶宋亡

Posted: June 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

青玉案 憶宋亡

山存河在國無形,

柳絮飄,波濤定。

須臾三載屯萬城,

簞壺殷切,正氣滿盈,

盡是迴光剩!

暗想當年江南盛,

杭作汴,何憂兵。

但見如今悉皆靜,

君臣喬幽,商女滿庭,

零丁復伶仃。

初寫宋詞,未及拘平仄,幸勿見笑。歡迎賜教,感激不盡。

[Note: This blogpost was modified from my debate with Skepsikyma : http://www.debate.org/debates/Music-Battle/10/]

Zhuang Zhou, better known by the title of Zhuangzi, was the second greatest philosopher of the Daoist school, after the founder Laozi. Greatly revered by generations of followers of the Daoist tradition, Zhuang Zhou’s philosphy has inspired numerous works of art, including a piece by Song Dynasty guqin master Mao Minzhong, Zhuang Zhou’s Butterfly Dream.

The piece itself is a peaceful reverie, which is evident to the listener from the first handful of notes, which set the tone and mood of the piece. The piece picks up after a couple of glissandi, yet remains tranquil in mood throughout. On occasion, one can hear traces of emotional intensity, yet this is always followed by a subsequent, gradual return to peace.

I shall, however, refrain from over-interpreting the piece with my own views, and instead present to the reader only the information necessary to understand it fully. Therefore, I will post here the passage from Zhuangzi on which the piece was based:

昔者莊周夢為胡蝶,栩栩然胡蝶也。自喻適志與!不知周也。俄然覺,則蘧蘧然周也。不知周之夢為胡蝶與?胡蝶之夢為周與?周與胡蝶則必有分矣。此之謂物化。

Although written in Classical Chinese, the passage is not difficult to understand. Here is my translation:

In the past, Zhuang Zhou dreamt that he was a butterfly, a lively butterfly. He told himself that he was happy, and had not a worry in the world. He knew no Zhuang Zhou. Abruptly he awoke, and suddenly, he was Zhuang Zhou again. Yet was it Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt of being a butterfly, or is it now a butterfly who is dreaming of being Zhuang Zhou? Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly, there must be one thing that separates them: It is transformation.

This paragraph is the last of the second chapter of Zhuangzi, Qiwu Lun, or On the Sameness of Things, which posits that all things are one. It concludes the concept very well. All things are one; what separates one thing from the other is transformation. A rational person might point out that it was Zhuangzi who turned into a butterfly in his dreams, and not vice versa, but how do we know exactly? When Zhuangzi turned into a butterfly in his dreams and knew no Zhuang Zhou, was he also a butterfly?

According to Daoist thought, it is only the most spiritually developed man who can see through the barrier between dream and reality, regard all things as one, and forget what we call ‘self’. In one world, he was a butterfly; in the other world, he was Zhuang Zhou. The butterfly was joyous, without a worry in the world, and belonged to the realm of spirituality; Zhuang Zhou was human, had to deal with worldly affairs, and belonged to the realm of man.

In the words of Moni Tianhong, one of the foremost guqin masters of our times, to master this piece, one must be able to ‘[…] Ride on the winds across the massive void, to transform in the same rhythm as the heavens and the earth, and to be one with all things.’ This is demonstrated in the video, by an anonymous performer whose work we are fortunate enough to be able to enjoy through YouTube.

***

In The Shadows of the Dark Dream, a collection of essays from the Qing Dynasty, writer Zhang Chao wrote that Zhuang Zhou becoming a butterfly was a blessing for Zhuang Zhou, but the butterfly becoming Zhuang Zhou was a curse for the butterfly. This is sadly true. Transforming into a butterfly rid Zhuang Zhou of all his worldly worries, but transforming into Zhuang Zhou robbed the butterfly of its peace and tranquility. So, too, was the butterfly who wrote this piece robbed of his piece and tranquility. After dedicated his life to performing, collecting and composing guqin works, Mao Minzhong went to Beijing for a place in government, the greatest honour for any scholar in Imperial China. He failed, and passed away in Beijing. One can hope that in his eternal rest, he will again transform into a butterfly, and roam the realm of spirituality forever.

  法國作曲名家拉威爾(Maurice Ravel)是愛國者。當年普林西普的子彈射穿斐迪南大公的脖子,歐洲局勢的骨牌一同倒下,燃起了那場「終止一切戰爭的戰爭」的熊熊烽火;峰火燒到法國,拉威爾得知國家大難當前,不理親友極力勸阻,奮不顧身申請參軍。拉威爾雖體無大礙,可畢竟不是戰壕裏抗敵的材料,參軍被拒無可奈何之下,唯有赴戰地醫院義務撫養傷兵,後來改任戰線貨車司機:「然而我是個和平主義者;我素來不是勇不可當的人。可是:我卻對歷險產生了好奇心。」(Et pourtant je suis pacifique; je n’ai jamais été courageux. Mais voilà : j’ai eu la curiosité de l’aventure.) 好奇心終化成對生靈塗炭的憐憫和對轟轟砲火的憤恨:「噫!那些愚昧之輩糊塗的悲觀主義……那狹隘的自我中心主義,那些鼠目寸光的見解……微弱的呼喊使我心靈不安:是可憐小鼠誤墮捕鼠器的聲音。」(Oh le pessimisme stupide de ces imbéciles … cet égoïsme borné, ces opinions de taupes … de petits cris me dérangent : c’est une pauvre souris qui s’est prise au piège du rat.)

  一九一七年,拉威爾因病被免去司機職務,埋首音樂創作。《庫普蘭之墓》(Le tombeau de Couperin)的六個樂章分別獻給一戰中遇難的七位同胞。前奏曲此起彼落,雙手旋律作乘風破浪之狀,抑揚頓挫有方;賦格曲旋律優雅,平靜而幽邃;Forlane舞曲開首的「不和諧音程」為這義大利曲式添上幾分鬼氣,貴冑色彩卻始終不改;Rigaudon舞曲的音符生奔活跳,強勁硬朗的重音與輕巧細膩的跳音如樸素迷離的雙兔,在普羅旺斯的薰衣草花田裏追逐;小步舞曲的古典旋律中鑲有幾點悲情;托卡塔曲的輕音錯落有致,炫技的尾段放射閃耀的光輝卻也不失巴洛克的格律。拉威爾沿襲了祖師庫普蘭(François Couperin)和恩師福雷(Gabriel Fauré,又譯「佛瑞」)那種法式曲風,輕描淡寫,含蓄典雅;簡約曼妙的音符背後卻飽藏一戰苦難的悲愴情調,恍如八仙中的何仙姑:嫻淑的姿態掩不住失去丈夫的斷腸之痛。

  相較之下,德式浪漫主義的激情高漲,豪邁奔放,與法式含蓄恰成天淵之別。德式浪漫的先驅貝多芬曾奉拿破崙為救國英雄,拿破崙稱帝後,貝氏始知人心叵測。一八零九年,法皇率兵攻打維也納,奧帝胞弟魯道夫大公被迫離城逃難,摯友貝多芬含淚譜下西洋音樂史上首屈一指的別離曲:《第二十六號鋼琴奏鳴曲「告別」》(Les adieux)第一樂章。貝多芬三十二首鋼琴奏鳴曲中,只有《告別》和早期巨著《第八號鋼琴奏鳴曲「悲愴」》(Pathétique)屬主題音樂。《悲愴》寫成時貝多芬才二十出頭,第一樂章左手的震音與右手響亮的和弦兩兩營造出激情的憤慨;素來只見於歌劇的感情表達手法,盡數收錄於短短十分鐘的樂章裏;作曲造詣之精深可謂舉世無雙,然而初出茅廬的貝多芬也難逃「少年不識愁滋味」之嫌。反觀《告別》的主體,竟是柔美的旋律和輕快的大調互相穿插織成的天衣。隨著樂章的推進,輕快的大調蛻變成激昂的和弦。血脈僨張的激情稍縱即逝,瞬間又化作柔美的旋律,正合杜詩裏那苦口婆心的忠告:「莫自使眼枯,收汝淚縱橫」!

  當時安使亂局不定,唐朝江山朝夕不保,新安吏按例點兵。壯男早已上陣,府帖下令徵收中男,杜甫惻心頓起:「中男絕短小,何以守王城?肥男有母送,瘦男獨伶俜。白水暮東流,青山猶哭聲。」新安吏冷冷答道:「莫自使眼枯,收汝淚縱橫。眼枯即見骨,天地終無情!」在無情的戰火和遍野的橫屍面前,藝術家沒有「壯志飢餐胡虜肉,笑談渴飲匈奴血」之仇,也沒有「恰似一江春水向東流」之怨,只有那單純的、「乍見儒子將入於井」的不忍人之心。戰爭中的藝術家收起橫流的熱淚,故有《庫普蘭之墓》、《告別奏鳴曲》這些不需虛作悲情也能感人肺腑的不朽名作。

  勢如破竹的拿破崙軍隊終在滑鐵盧之役中遭俄軍擊敗。六十八個寒暑過後,俄人柴可夫斯基為表紀念,寫下《一八一二序曲》,砲聲、鐘聲、銅管聲中盡帶臨陣殺敵之快意,民族主義之色昂然欲彰。柴氏乃不識干戈之輩,豈知「一將功成萬骨枯」之殘酷?

  宋襄公與楚人戰於涿谷上,宋人既成列矣,楚人未及濟,右司馬購強趨而諫曰:「楚人眾而宋人寡,請使楚人半涉未成列而擊之,必敗。」襄公曰:「寡人聞君子曰:不重傷,不擒二毛,不推人於險,不迫人於阨,不鼓不成列。今楚未濟而擊之,害義。請使楚人畢涉成陣而後鼓士進之。」右司馬曰:「君不愛宋民,腹心不完,特為義耳。」公曰:「不反列,且行法。」右司馬反列,楚人已成列撰陣矣,公乃鼓之,宋人大敗,公傷股,三日而死,此乃慕自親仁義之禍。夫必恃人主之自躬親而後民聽從,是則將令人主耕以為上,服戰鴈行也民乃肯耕戰,則人主不泰危乎?而人臣不泰安乎? --《韓非子.外儲說左上》

  某些說法把宋襄公列為春秋五霸之一,其實宋襄公在春秋亂世的政治舞台上不過是曇花一現,不能與齊桓晉文齊名。若問他如何失敗,只消看看他最後一役,便一目瞭然。宋襄公在涿谷遇到楚軍,宋軍早已排好陣勢,楚軍還在渡河,右司馬勸他及早進軍,殺個措手不及。宋襄公的對答卻真是理直氣壯,一字一驚喜:「寡人聞君子曰:不重傷,不擒二毛,不推人於險,不迫人於阨,不鼓不成列。今楚未濟而擊之,害義。請使楚人畢涉成陣而後鼓士進之。」依他的理論,乘人之危乃不仁不義之舉,有違道德,實不能為之。不論以古代的觀點,還是現代人的角度,襄公都是迂腐得可憐,幼稚得可笑。作為一國之君,人民的福祉當是首要考慮。為了「仁義」之名,把宋國的存亡拿作犧牲品,是本末倒置。而且,戰爭本來就是殘酷的,正所謂「兵不厭詐」,戰場上誰跟你談仁義說道德?君不見歷代沙場相戮,屍橫遍野的境況?對別人講仁義,就等於置自己於死地。

  有言儒家思想提倡「仁義之師」,宋襄公成就了儒家精神,這是似是而非的詭辯。所謂仁義之師,是要先得民心而後出戰。曹劌論戰便是經典一例。齊國伐魯,魯莊公準備迎擊,曹劌卻要求莊公接見,問他:「你憑什麼來打仗?」莊公說,他會把衣服糧食分給別人,曹劌卻說:「小惠未遍,民弗從也。」莊公說,他祭祀時用的牛羊一定如實報告,不會虛誇,曹劌卻說:「小信未孚,神弗福也。」莊公又說,它雖然不能一一查辦全國的官司,但一定按實情辦理。曹劌說:「忠之屬也,可以一戰」,莊公竭力安撫百姓,得了民心,有條件出戰。人民支持的戰役就是仁義之師。曹劌擊退齊軍時,挫其士氣,乘其危亂,哪裡用過宋襄公的「蠢豬式的仁義道德」!

  不過,我們要是把宋襄公的故事說給外國人聽,反應卻未必如此。外國人從不講仁義道德,卻講究「騎士風度」(chivalry)。中古歐洲的戰場像競技場,騎士要謹守某些守則,不然會被天下人恥笑,甚至唾罵。比如說,騎士不許從敵人後面行刺,殺他措手不及;把敵人擊倒在地,也不能砍下其首級;戰爭不利,失敗在即,寧死也不可棄甲曳兵,必周旋到底。查理大帝手下名將羅蘭被眾騎士推為祖師爺,他的最後一場戰役是他的成名戰。驍勇善戰的巴斯克人突擊查理的軍隊,羅蘭奮然出戰,連勝幾場;到了最後一場戰役,敵眾我寡,勢必大敗,羅蘭卻不請救兵,不思逃竄,鼓起勇氣猛戰至死。這事被中國軍師聽見,一定斥其勇而不謀,他卻名留歐洲青史,豈非怪哉怪哉!

  然則騎士思想,在中國人眼裏迂腐可笑,在外國人眼裡卻不然。中國人教條不少,例如守孝三年、長幼有序,這些原則都以道德人倫作基礎。外國人的騎士守則,尋根究底源於「榮譽」(honour)一詞。違反了守則,你就丟了聲名,毀了榮譽;為秉承原則而殉身,你就丟了性命,留了千古美譽。不啻騎士如此,西方社會普遍亦如此。西人幹了什麼殘害生靈的滔天惡行,不是「unbenevolent」(不仁),不是「unrighteous」(不義),而是「dishonorable」或者「a disgrace」,自毀名聲。所以,維繫社會秩序的是個人榮譽,不是仁義道德。

  由是觀之,宋襄公活在春秋時代,是他命子不好,要是他生於中世紀歐洲,一定成為騎士的典範。

Both of Beethoven’s two piano sonatas, Op. 27, bore the subtitle of ‘Quasi una fantasia‘, or ‘almost a fantasy’. Nevertheless, it is the lesser-known No. 1 that became known by this name, for the popular, misunderstood and rather hackneyed second sonata has taken the title of ‘Moonlight’. It was the music critic Ludwig Rellstab who, in his 1824 novel Theodor, bestowed this name on the first movement of the piece. He was not the first to associate the piece with the night: Czerny, one of Beethoven’s most successful students, called it a ‘night scene’.

There is no evidence that Beethoven had moonlight in mind. In fact, Czerny likely got the nocturnal associations from his friend Field, who invented the nocturne. Czerny, himself a prolific composer of the genre, would not be unfamiliar with its characteristic style – cantabile melody, broken-chord accompaniment – which is heard throughout the first movement of Op. 27 No. 2.

By prescribing the mood of the piece, Czerny and Rellstab have unwittingly stripped the sonata of an important element: That of a fantasia. A fantasia is a piece that breaks free from restrictions, flouts convention and lets ideas flow naturally from the mind and sentiments from the heart. Thanks to Czerny and Rellstab, every time a pianist plays the piece, she thinks of moonlight over a lake, instead of engaging the imagination that is an integral part of a fantasia. Even if the interpreter does not have lunar intentions (or deliberately avoids holding them), the listener cannot but feel there is, for we have been instilled since an early age the notion that the sonata is about the moon.

Music is an art. What is art? Art is a way of expressing ideas that leaves room for interpretation. It is not the artist’s job – lesser still, the job of interpreters – to fill in every detail, capture exact ideas, and tell the audience – reader, listener, theatregoer, admirer of fine arts – what to think. The greatest masters do not weave ‘seamless celestial robes’ (天衣無縫); to use a Cantonese phrase, when you draw a figure, you don’t have to draw in the intestines, too (唔洗畫公仔畫出腸). This poem from Li Qingzhao is an example:

昨夜雨疏風驟,濃睡不消殘酒。試問捲簾人,卻道海棠依舊。知否?知否?應是綠肥紅瘦。

Last night a sprinkling of rain, a violent wind. After a deep sleep, still not recovered from the lingering effect of wine, I inquired of the one rolling up the screen; But the answer came: “The cherry-apple blossoms are still the same.” “Oh, don’t you know, don’t you know? The red must be getting thin, while the green is becoming plump.”

(Translation courtesy of Lucy Chao Ho, Seton Hall University)

Who was the soul who rolled up the screen? Some say her deceased husband; some say a servant girl. Some say he was a figment of the poet’s imagination. We will never know, nor do we need to know. Generations of interpreters can decide for themselves. For the same reason, I prefer listening to Op. 27 No. 1 rather than its celebrated sibling. I cannot escape from Rellstab’s moonlight.

  自余為僇人,居是州,恆惴慄;其隙也,則施施而行,漫漫而遊。日與其徒上高山,入深林,窮迴溪;幽泉怪石,無遠不到,到則披草而坐,傾壺而醉,醉則更相枕以臥,臥而夢。意有所極,夢亦同趣。覺而起,起而歸。以為凡是州之山水有異態者,皆我有也,而未始知西山之怪特。

  今年九月二十八日,因坐法華西亭,望西山,始指異之。遂命僕人,過湘江,緣染溪,斫榛莽,焚茅茷,窮山之高而止。攀援而登,箕踞而遨,則凡數州之土壤,皆在衽席之下。

  其高下之勢,岈然洼然,若垤若穴,尺寸千里,攢蹙累積,莫得遯隱;縈青繚白,外與天際,四望如一。然後知是山之特出,不與培塿為類,悠悠乎與灝氣俱,而莫得其涯;洋洋乎與造物者遊,而不知其所窮。

  引觴滿酌,頹然就醉,不知日之入。蒼然暮色,自遠而至,至無所見,而猶不欲歸。心凝形釋,與萬化冥合。然後知吾嚮之未始遊,遊於是乎始,故為之文以志。

  是歲,元和四年也。

  《始得西山宴遊記》是柳宗元「永州八記」之始。柳宗元被貶後天天宴遊永洲山水,「幽泉怪石,無遠不到」,可謂至閒也。這種閒當然不是魏晉隱士那種頹廢委靡的閒,而是仕途失意聊以自我慰籍的閒。柳氏礙於現實之限,不能成就大業,卻也成全了儒士「用之則行,舍之則藏」的高尚品格。

  「閒」話少說,還是入正題吧。柳宗元用筆從不拖沓,首段先描述自己與同伴平日遊山玩水的習慣:在草地上席地而坐,喝醉後相枕而眠,夢裏隨心所欲,想去哪就去哪,睡醒就回家去了(到則披草而坐,傾壼而醉;醉則更相枕以臥,意有所極,夢亦同趣;覺而起,起而歸)。九月二十八日,作者坐西華亭時,發現西山有點莫名的怪異之處,於是一行人披荊斬棘登上西山:過湘江,緣染溪,斫榛莽,焚茅茷,窮山之高而止。登上山頂,果然別有洞天:「其高下之勢,岈然洼然,若垤若穴,尺寸千里,攢蹙累積,莫得遯隱;縈青繚白,外與天際,四望如一。然後知是山之特出,不與培塿為類,悠悠乎與灝氣俱,而莫得其涯;洋洋乎與造物者遊,而不知其所窮。」得西山後,他們又照舊醉臥山頭,夢到的不是「意有所極,夢亦同趣」的悠閒逸興,而是與宇宙萬物融為一體的和諧雅趣。

  全文命脈,在一個「始」字。「始」字出現三次,第一次是在第一段末:「而未始知西山之怪特」,這裏「始」字作「曾經」解。柳氏雖然身在此山中,卻未曾見識西山的奇特,是「未覺」。第二次是第二段的「因坐法華西亭,望西山,始指異之」。這裡的「始」字解作「才」,柳氏眼裏的西山剛露出圭角,這是「始覺」。第三次是文末「然後知吾嚮之未始遊,遊於是乎始,故為之文以志」,柳宗元覺得以前從沒真正體會過山水的特異處,這次西山之旅是遊歷真正的開始。這是「已覺」後的領會。

  始得西山的感悟,有如鳳毛麟角,不能多求。如果得到,當視之如珍如寶,這是人生難能可貴的一種升華。雖是鳳毛麟角,我也偶有拾到。中一時,我對班上一位同學有點不滿,覺得她脾氣太壞。上了中二,她不再發脾氣了,西山前的一層雲霧就這麼吹散了,揭曉了它的真面目。我從她日常的待人接物態度中,重新認識了她,不滿之感盡消,化成了一種敬仰,我自愧從沒認識過她,又慶幸自己終得西山。

  有時,西山就是我們身邊的人。有些人在親人逝去前,甚至逝去後,才驀然驚覺他們的偉大,心頭漾出敬仰之情,感激之情,還有萬種情懷,只是恨晚,情還來不及化成言語,親人已經棄世。這種遺憾,在文學作品裡並不罕見。有時,西山就是我們身處的地方。我在香港出生,在香港長大,跟香港共度了十六個春秋。一九九七年香港剛回歸祖國,在祖國的懷抱裏經歷了十六年的成長,而我也由牙牙學語的嬰兒,長成今天在電腦前亂寫網誌的十六歲青少年。香港是什麼?小學常識課本說:「香港位於中國東南沿岸地區,屬亞熱帶氣候……」香港是何方神聖?初中歷史課本說:「香港本是中國廣東一條小漁村,鴉片戰爭後香港島割讓予英國,展開了過百年的殖民地歲月……」我認識香港嗎?

  我認識窗前的「龍園」。那裏曾是灰塵廢氣飛揚的停車場。龍園落成當時是二零零七年暑假,香港回歸十周年,我是九七娃娃,順理成章參加了那個植樹活動,龍園挺拔的樹木間想必也有一株是跟我有關的,只是忘了是哪一株。我認識元朗。外婆去世前,住在元朗一家老人院,爸媽常帶我去元朗探望外婆。外婆離去,我和元朗斷了兩年的緣分,中一卻考進了元朗鄉中。這五年我徜徉於天水圍和元朗市之間,來往兩區的道路,也瞭如指掌。我認識香港的歷史。中二時曾對港史產生濃厚興趣,看過不少港史的書,至今還記得一二。我認識香港的地理。中五地理科教「Dynamic Earth」單元,香港的岩石、地貌和我一見如故,頓成了我的摯友。

  可我不認識香港。香港是什麼?香港的精神是什麼?是勤奮?我只看見懶惰。是堅毅?我只看見懦弱。是追求?我只看見失望,只看見放棄。

  試問蒼天,我待到何時,才能「始得獅子山」?我想,那還要一份閒。一份「卻道天涼好過秋」的閒。

The Evils of Wordiness

Posted: December 23, 2013 in Language Talk
Tags: , ,

George Orwell is best known for his politically-oriented novel 1984 and the equally polemical Animal Farm. Perhaps unbeknownst to most, he also wrote six simple rules for effective writing. These oft-quoted principles are the tenets of good communication, and should always be held dear:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.

Granted, it not always wise to abide by these rules in the examination hall. A 5** student must flaunt such phrases as ‘put the cart before the horse’ and ‘beard the lion in his den’ in his or her writing. There is perhaps no geography teacher that will encourage the fifth rule, for ‘strata’ is always superior to ‘layers’, and ‘ecological equilibrium’ to ‘natural balance’. In fact, the fourth rule is not always true: the passive voice, in the right situations, enhance the writing. In the same essay where he introduced the rules, he wrote, ‘you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious’.

Exceptions notwithstanding, these general rules should be held close to our hearts every time we pick up our pens. Blithe disregard of these rules is a crime. This quote from an ICT textbook is a case in point:

On some occasions, using graphics is usually a more effective means of communication than using text only. Common examples of graphics include: photographs, drawings, line art, diagrams and, maps, etc.

Heavens! This excerpt is not only wordy and redundant, but also self-contradictory – the frequency indicators ‘on some occasions’ and ‘usually’ are semantically distinct. Here is my version:

Graphics often communicate more effectively than pure text. Examples of graphics include photographs, line art, diagrams and maps.

A cut of 1/3 of the words may seem inconsequential, but would you rather read a 200-page book or a 300-page one with the same content?

Maybe some will argue that non-fiction authors are not obligated to write like Orwell. That is not true; even scientific literature can be written well. Consider this quote from A Geography of Hong Kong:

Hong Kong, despite its limited area of 1,060 km2, shows marked spatial variations in relief and topography. To some extent this reflects the diversity in its assemblage of landforms and associated features. Within relatively short distances the change of relief is not only frequent but is also quite abrupt. Rugged hills on upland terrains contrast with the level grounds of the valley floors from which the terrains rise steeply. Remnants of the staircase-like erosion surfaces providing breaks of slope survive side by side with plunging slope profiles. Pocket interfluvial basins sandwiched between projecting shoulders of ranges overlook the open, less contracted, low-lying flood plains. Relief features of these contrasting categories thus emphasise the third dimension of the topography.

Crisp, concise, and crystal clear. If all our textbooks were written like this, I doubt Hong Kong’s TOEFL scores would still lag behind Japan and Korea.

種樹的郭橐駝

Posted: December 23, 2013 in 書海浮沉
Tags: , ,

[改篇自十一月素材寶庫]

  萬物皆有其道,只需順其道而行,萬物自然會興隆。可是,往往有人不放心,總愛事事精打細算,以為「有為」必勝於「無為」,於是「愛之太恩,憂之太勤」,弄巧成拙,徒勞無功。我們常說:「有心栽花花不開,無心插柳柳成蔭」,有心栽花的人對花兒關照太多,顧慮也太多,花兒硬是不開;無心插柳的人懂得放手,毫無牽掛,讓大自然自己創造奇蹟,柳樹苗受到日月的滋潤,便能長得蓬勃蓊鬱。

  柳宗元的《種樹郭橐駝傳》就闡明了這個歷久彌新的道理。郭橐駝是長安以西一個鄉下的村民,他憑著舉世無雙、冠絕儔輩的種樹技術聞名於世。只要是他種下的樹,即使是移植過去的,不但不會枯委,而且全都長得高大茂密、碩果纍纍(視駝所種樹,或移徙,無不活,且碩茂蚤實以蕃)。有人百思不得其解,遂向他請教種樹之道。原來,他沒有特殊的本領,可是他懂得順應著樹木的天性種植,根部要有舒展的空間,培土要分佈得均勻,舊土一同移植到新的地點,築土要堅固結實,幾點達到了,就不要再回頭看它了(凡植木之性,其本欲舒,其培欲平,其土欲故,其築欲密。既然已,勿動勿慮,去不複顧)。

  柳宗元這篇傳記,是借郭橐駝種樹的故事說明治國之道。事實上,修身、齊家一樣用得著這個道理。小時後,老師要我們背《三字經》,首兩句便是「人之初,性本善」;到了中學,我們學到「人之有是四端也,猶其有四體也」。先賢說,善心是與生俱來的。要成為有道德修養的人,只需順從良心,要是我們刻意把自己改造成「賢人」,「賢」就會變得虛假。從前有人趕路時被山賊搶去了所有財物,卻毫無傷心之情,悠然自得地離去。山賊覺得奇怪,便上前問個究竟。那人說,錢財的作用是保持生命,捨棄生命追求錢財,是不值得的。山賊聽罷,都稱他是個賢人,又怕賢人會向官府告發他們,就把他幹掉了。

  教子的道理也一樣。現今不少「怪獸家長」把希望寄託在子女身上,要求他們每天參加多項興趣班、補習班。最後,興趣班培養不了興趣,補習班也彌補不了學習的不足,孩子沒變成多才多藝的「文藝復興式人物」,反而因疲於奔命而吃不消。甚至有本地家長望子成龍心切,女兒剛生下來,就要她學會粵、普、英、日四語;可是女兒到了四歲,連一句完整的中文句子也說不出。其實,家長只需要為孩子提供優良學習環境和正面的價值觀,把泥土準備好,別的由子女自行發掘、摸索,子女自然就可以發揮他們的潛能,長成郭橐駝枝繁葉茂的參天大樹。

  前幾天說過偶遇書蟲的事情,興致未消,又作一篇。

  拙文以《我們都是書蟲》為題,說的斷然不是世人的閱讀習慣。人們總愛為醉心讀書的人冠上「書蟲」的名號,是美譽是污名,仁者見人智者見智。以本人愚見,人之似書蟲者,並非人的胃口,而是人的習性。

  顧名思義,書蟲必寄居於書。書之於書蟲,就像水之於魚,魚失去水便會死去,書蟲無書亦然。當天我外衣上的書蟲緩緩蠕動,就像被漁夫抓上岸的魚,失去了生命的依靠,只能黯然啜泣,有苦難言,不久就一命嗚呼了。即使是強者,甩掉以後,同樣難逃勾魂使者的拘提。餘下留守書城的,也避不過老師無情的掃帚。

  在此之前,書蟲王國正處於欣欣向榮的太平盛世,男女老少夙夜吃書,終日倘佯於群書之間,書架的木板是蟲國的疆域,書脊都成了通衢大道,那本《香港作家散文導賞》,則是蟲影熙來攘往、接踵摩肩的都邑!堂堂大國,一夜之間,何至沒落至此?竊以為,蟲國的繁華只是海市辰樓般的假象,蟲國始盛之旦,背後已經暗暗響起北鄙之音。圖書館的書,就只有這麼多,書蟲在此定居繁衍,蟲口勢必與日俱增,書總會有吃完的一天。書吃完了,只剩一片蕭條,萬千書蟲在窮途末路的盡頭,只能發出最後的吼聲!

  昔有復活島文明,聳立於智利以西的一個小島,一尊尊巨型人面像,載着多少萬井笙歌的歷史和一樽江月的回億!只怪他們不愛惜自然,天然資源近乎耗盡之際,竟不思逃脫,反而埋首雕刻。雕欄玉砌畢竟不能當飯吃,滿天神衹也聽不到他們的哭訴,才至今天禾黍故宮的慘況。今天的國家民族、乃至世界文明經濟蒸蒸日上,科技日新月異,可是我們賴以為生的木材、礦物和化石燃料將近枯竭,環境生態天天受到冷酷的摧殘。在有限的地球系統裏,把經濟系統無限擴張,似乎成了人類的使命。這種形勢,還能維持多久?

  回望蟲國的殘山剩水,只見幾道黑色的疤痕,和幾本倖存的圖書。那荒蕪的景象,難道就是人類的未來?