The most common subject matter in calligraphy is poetry. Artists either recreate classic works or, occasionally, compose their own. A particular poem might reflect political dissent, disappointment in life, or the joys of retirement.
This version of the 95-character poem about the Duojing lou, which can be translated as “Pavilion with Various Views,” is written in semicursive script and, while there is no signature or seal impression by the artist, has long been associated with Mi Fu, one of the great calligraphers of the Northern Song dynasty.
The whole work consists of 95 characters on 11 pages. The first two sentences consisting of fourteen characters (reading from top to bottom and right to left) can be translated as: “The elite once traveled there (to the doujinglou), led by a dream. This is the number one pavilion under heaven (or in the world).”
One can see all the qualities of Mi Fu's writing in these few characters. Strong, deliberate strokes of varying width and depth of ink reveal an artist of strong opinions and beliefs and yet of great artistry and sophistication. Su Shi described Mi Fu's work, “like sailing in the wind, and riding a horse into battle, his writing is exhilarating!”
Attached to the original work is extra written sections called colophons that include the comments of later, appreciative collectors. They speak to the many layers of tradition that are now embodied in such works and the longstanding interest that persists in collecting Tang (618–906) and Song dynasty (960–1279) calligraphies as works of art.