The Twelve Images of Sorrow are: the autumn moon behind three black branches, a mirror when it does not reflect a face, a single whit plum-petal hanging from a bough, the eyes of a beautiful lady at dusk, a garden in summer rain, frosty breath on an autumn night, an old man gazing at a river, a faded fan, a dead sparrow in the snow, a lover leaving his mistress at dawn, an old abandoned hourglass, the black from of the wild duck against the red setting sun. These are the sorrows known to all men, but there is a sorrow that is known only in Cathay. Our sorrow is the sorrow hidden in the depths of the rich, deep-blue summer afternoons, the sorrow of sunshine on the blossoming plum tree, the sorrow that lies like a faint purple shadow in the iris of a beautiful, laughing girl.
My father had once told me the story of how, when he was in the work camp, a truckload of giant logs was brought in to be chopped. He was on ax duty with a gang of twelve. It was a dreadfully hot summer and each swing of the blade was torture. He hacked at a log and there was the unmistakable sound of metal hitting metal. He bent down and found a mushroom-shaped chunk of lead embedded in the trunk. A bullet. He counted the rings from the perimeter to the bullet and found they matched his age exactly.
We never escape ourselves, he said to me years later.
No one has ever completely extracted all the implications of the fact that the writer, the artist, or even the scientist writes not only for a public, but for a public of equals who are also competitors.
What we, or any rate I, refer to confidently as a memory - meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion - is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling. Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life to ever be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they conform to this end. In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw.