2: Sounds and Silence: Tang Poetic Visions of the Cosmological Void
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 312
Arizona State University, United States
By the Tang dynasty, the competing revelations of the Upper Clarity (Shangqing) and Numinous Treasure (Lingbao) scriptural traditions coalesced to form a composite picture of the Daoist heavens. In this view, the Grand Veil Heaven (Daluo tian) encompassed the Three Clarities (Sanqing), three separate heavens arranged in a hierarchy and populated by ascending ranks of celestial beings. Beyond this was the existence of a grand void, an expanse outside the limits of these heavens, where material dualities begin to fade and conditions return to the Dao itself. Wu Yun (d. 778) wrote several poems, including his collection of 24 “Roaming in Transcendence” (youxian) stanzas, a ten-stanza set of “Lyrics on Pacing the Void” (buxu ci), and his “Rhapsody on Ascending to Perfection” (Dengzhen fu), that embody this conceptualization. Wu presents a cohesive picture of ascending to the heavens and beyond into the void, described as Grand Silence (Taimo), adopting a term from earlier Daoist writings. In this paper, I juxtapose several passages from Wu’s pieces with related poems composed by others in an attempt to understand how poets conceptualized the cosmos, the void, and sound. For many Tang poets, the celestial regions were less structured, comprising an almost void-like province. Celestial sounds, in their poetic visions, originated from the beyond and drifted into the world to be comprehended by a select few. An examination of this selection of poems suggests a broader imagination of the void as a place of vibrant sound, or lack thereof, connected to the mundane world.