It’s an odd thing to see isn’t it?
What on earth are you implying? It goes against every learned thought we have about reading. Knowledge is power and if it expands the mind why would there ever be a good reason to not read? Well, this is exactly what was implied by this Chinese poet.
Yang Wanli (楊萬里) (1127–1206) was a Chinese poet, born in Jishui, Jiangxi. He was one of the “four masters” of Southern Song Dynasty poetry. Written during the final exile of the Song to Hangzhou, the poems celebrate the beauties and mysteries of nature, flora and fauna, much as the famed Song painters did – but they also querulously and wittily illuminate the annoyances and pleasures of everyday life.
In one of his poems, he highlights the virtue of not reading – Translated into English:
Don’t read books!
Don’t chant poems!
When you read books your eyeballs wither away
leaving the bare sockets.
When you chant poems your heart leaks out slowly
with each word.
People say reading books is enjoyable.
People say chanting poems is fun.
But if your lips constantly make a sound
like an insect chirping in autumn,
you will only turn into a haggard old man.
And even if you don’t turn into a haggard old man,
it’s annoying for others to have to hear you.
It’s so much better
to close your eyes, sit in your study,
lower the curtains, sweep the floor,
It’s beautiful to listen to the wind,
listen to the rain,
take a walk when you feel energetic,
and when you’re tired go to sleep.
-Yang Wanli (1127 – 1206)
It’s a striking call to the age of information overload, especially more so today. While social media becomes ever more increasingly astute in our day to day lives, the urge to take it slow, take things in, is an inviting change. Listen to the sounds around you, listen to the breath of the world you live in, to live as is without the clutter and the mindfulness that comes with knowing.
A reminder that we too need to take a break from information consumption, to live slower, and take mind to breathe once in a while.