Wen Zhengming was one of the most prolific artists of the Ming dynasty. He painted, composed poems, and wrote calligraphy. Wen wrote this poem in the spring of 1525 on the occasion of a visit he made with friends to view Lake Taiye in the imperial Western Garden in Beijing. The verses evoke the magical aura of the lake and refer to Daoist paradises:
The water’s expanse, the vast pond merging with heaven; Ten li of lotus, a smooth embroidered cloud.
I have heard that Yuefu caused the yellow crane to sing
And seen the Qiufeng move a stone whale to swim.
The curved jade rainbow descends across the blue sky;
The silver mountains rise from the world through the mist.
Following those places where the phoenix chariot passed,
The wild geese wheel round the air, never startled.
Wen’s principal model for this type of running/standard script calligraphy, as well as the literary style of the poem, was Huang Tingjian (1045–1105), whose work Scroll for Zhang Datong is on display along the opposing wall. Each character is uncompromisingly placed in an imaginary square and written with firm, determined brushstrokes.