Butterfly dreams, p.1
Butterfly Dreams, p.1Jack Tate
Three Delightful Tales
Zhuang DaoBai – Jack Tate
Copyright 2011 Jack Tate
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Zhuangzi dreamed he was a butterfly happily fluttering about joyously forgetting who he was. Suddenly Zhuangzi awoke, but he did not know if he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man, or a man who dreamed he was a butterfly.
The Papermaker’s Apprentice
The painted butterfly hanging in the museum seemed so real, as if its wings would begin to flutter at any moment. A group of visitors gathered to look at the painting. One visitor said that the artist Chen Hongshou had “…captured the essence of the butterfly.”
The old museum guard chuckled softly and said, “The papermaker, not the artist, created the exquisite cage and the artist had merely coaxed the butterfly from the heavens.” With that he began to tell a story.
A master papermaker watched as fifty young women swept nets across a field of flowers; their arms were like a silken tide. As the young women swayed back and forth above the flowers, the master papermaker said. “You must be able to capture the clouds in your hands and move them onto the page. Your unseen hands must move as spirits in the shadows of the artist. The paper you make must easily receive the spirit from the artist’s brush.”
As the young women moved from the open field of flowers to the denser bushes of butterfly roses, their gowns were snagged by the thorny stems.
“…In your work you must stir delicately as a butterfly wing, the air above the page. Your hands must dance with the artist’s brush…”
The Master continued his teaching, leaving behind over three dozen aspiring apprentices. Dropping their empty nets, they tearfully freed themselves from the thorny bushes.
“…Our fingers move as the leaves rustling in summer’s evening breeze. Light, airy fingertips coax the paper spirits to life. Awaken within the paper’s fibers the spellbinding energy. The paper you create will one day embrace immortal masterworks. In those moments, when the artist’s work remains long since we have turned to dust, there beneath the page, you too will live forever…”
When the remaining apprentices reached the Master’s workshop, there seemed to be one more than when they left the thorny bushes.
“As the shadow behind you is attached to the brilliance of the sun, you must become attached to the brilliance of the artists’ creation. You young ladies have passed the first tests. Now you can enter my domain and see whose work will live forever.
“You will now demonstrate your divine binding ability. These butterflies which you have captured in your nets are to be bound to the page in front of you. The goal is not to force the delicate butterfly onto these pages, but to convince it to lie still as if it were asleep, just as a blank page awaits the artist’s work and captures the soft blaze of artistic fire. Begin.”
With that the Master left the room. As the thirteen young women opened their nets to remove the butterflies, two found their butterflies had died, and six had their butterflies escape when they opened their net. This gloomy group sat on the floor and wept.
One young woman carefully pinned the edges of her butterfly’s wings with silver pins. The struggling butterfly pulled against its fasteners until it tore one wing free and fell silent.
Another young woman created a silk slipknot and used it to make a leash for the butterfly, but she did not take into account the unbreakable strength of the silk thread and the unbending strength of the butterfly’s desire for escape. As the butterfly flapped its wings, the silk leash grew tighter and tighter until the thread slit through the butterfly’s body and it fell.
One young woman wove a small tube of silk, but when she slipped it around the butterfly’s body the tube fit too tightly. The butterfly could not breathe and grew still.
Another lady was from a family of basket makers. She bent the silver pins together to form a cage and caged the butterfly. The butterfly fought against its cage, thrashing about until it had spent all its energy and died.
The remaining young woman fluttered about the table and sang as she set about her work. Her song slipped into the ears like moonbeams drifting through willows.
The lady’s song was so soft and sweet that the others were as enchanted by the singing as the butterfly which climbed into her outstretched palm. Its wings beat slower and slower until it drifted off to sleep as did all the other ladies. The young lady sat the sleeping butterfly onto the page and continued singing as she made piles of paper.
Later, the other ladies awoke to the sounds of the master papermaker’s return. When they opened their eyes they saw a room filled with the finest paper any of them had ever seen; but the young apprentice papermaker had disappeared.
The master papermaker ran his finger over the paper, caressing it as the paper seemed to come to life. The master turned to the young ladies, “Who made this paper? Who created this paper as soft as a butterfly’s wing?”
No one could answer. The silence of the apprentices filled the master with rage. He began to boil and fume. The quiet butterfly awakened and fluttered from the page to the master’s shoulder. The master papermaker heard a small voice singing, and his anger vanished. He listened as the small voice then told him the method for making the “butterfly wing” paper.
With that, the master papermaker rushed to his private workshop. Days later, the master papermaker walked out of his workshop holding the very first sheet of “butterfly wing” paper. They say on quiet nights you can almost hear the paper sing.
For generations, the papermaker’s family has guarded the secret of the paper. They say, great artists come and go, blooming like flowers each season. In some seasons there are many, and in some seasons there are few, but each season passes and the previous season’s blooms are replaced. What endure are the artistic traditions and the media through which they are conveyed.
With that, the old man finished his tale, and everyone leaned closer to the painting to admire the butterfly paper and listen for the butterfly’s song.
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