Zha Haisheng, better known by his pen name Hai Zi, was a famous poet in China. CFP
English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, “Nothing is so beautiful as spring.” If anything comes close, it’s probably poetry.
Among all the poems about spring, Facing the Ocean, Spring Warms Flowers Open written by Chinese poet Zha Haisheng (1964-1989), better known by his pen name Hai Zi, is one of the best to describe the spirit of the season. Even today, it is recited by young people, though the poet passed away three decades ago, at age 25.
He describes nature and life with simple and direct language that translates into English with similar clarity.
For example, in the lines “starting from tomorrow, become a content person / feed the horses, split wood, roam the world,” Zha gets straight to the point.
While his language is clear, Zha’s poetry often uses symbolic images, like the sea or wheat fields, to convey a deeper meaning.
In his eyes, poetry is an individual creation and it is a mirror of oneself. Zha craved nature, so his poems seldom deal with cities. Zha said the two elements of nature and life in his poems were influenced by The Book of Songs and Li Sao.
Besides the Chinese classics, Zha also sought inspiration from Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, whose works showed great passion.
Zha had an extraordinary natural sensitivity and a special insight into his surroundings. This perception was key to his success in literature. “The supersensitivity forced him to venture into an ideal world, where poetry can soothe the wounds in his heart posed by the secular world,” wrote Chinese writer Liu Yuan.
But why did Zha have such sensitivity? His life experiences may give a clue. Born and raised in a poor farming family in Anhui province, Zha passed the national college entrance exam and entered famous Peking University at 15. From his childhood, he was regarded as an excellent student, who was also burdened with great expectations from his family. Great pressure and tough living conditions taught him harsh realities of the world, but he eventually turned to poetry, which helped relieve his stress.
“Zha was definitely a giant poet,” wrote Liu Jun, known by the pen name Xi Chuan. “His own life was a piece of poetry.”