Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Sussurations

Funny how one does – and doesn’t! – do things. Yesterday I took the step of entering Peach Blossom Story in my Google search box. Up came numerous links to a restaurant called Peach Blossom. But there were also listings that led to one of my most treasured stories. I know it as Peach Blossom Forest. I’ve long been aware that it’s a very ancient  Chinese story and in my almost as ancient and extremely scruffy storytelling notebook are five or six lines of translated-into-English Chinese poetry that are associated with it.

Peach Blossom Forest is one of the two main stories I told at our Summer Enchantment performance at Peppers in Fishguard this last Wednesday evening. (The other was last week’s story, The Stolen Child.) But – and this is perhaps the odd bit – I’d never until yesterday felt I needed to know anything more about this story than the story itself. Indeed, I’ve long treasured it almost as my own tale, so personal and private that I’m not sure I’ve ever told it before. But yesterday, reflecting on the tale as if from afar after reading about it on Google, I realised how strongly my private feelings about the story – more generally known, I see now, as Peach Blossom Spring – reflect the story itself.

Peach Blossom Forest

The story tells of a fisherman who, admiring the reflections of peach blossom in the waters of the river through which he is rowing, looks up and sees himself to be in the middle of a vast peach-tree forest. Determining to discover the forest’s extent, he rows on until, reaching the source of the river, he sees the hills from which the river flows and in them discovers a chasm which, when he pushes himself through it, brings him to what feels like a new world. It’s a place full of well-tilled fields, well-kept houses and kindly people and, talking with a man there, he learns that the people in this place had come here a very long time ago when they’d had to flee from attack. Finding this as a safe haven, they have lived undisturbed here ever since.

Of course, the fisherman stays awhile and when he finally leaves to go back home, the people he has stayed with understandably ask him not to tell anyone about them. But when he gets back home, he finds it impossible to resist his family’s questions. Once members of his family know where’s he been, news of his experience begins to spread, first to neighbours and then to the authorities of the town where he lives. Now the town’s officials demand that he come to explain and although he harbours doubts as to whether he can ever again find the place where he has been, they insist that they take him there. And this is where those lines of ancient poetry from the poet Wang Wei (A.D. 699 – 761) come in:

He was sure of his way there, could never go wrong
How should he know that peaks and valleys can so soon change?
When the time came, he simply remembered having gone deep into the hills
But how many green streams lead into cloud-high woods –
When spring comes, everywhere there are peach blossom streams.
No-one can tell which may be the spring of paradise.

The link with personal experience:

For me, such an experience links with one I describe in one of the personal tales in my book, A Long Run in Short Shorts. As a child, out exploring all on my own, I came to a daffodil wood. For long years after, I wondered if I would ever find that place again. As it happens, I did. And as it happens, it was daffodils time and the wood was full of them. It was magical to see the place again. But the more important thing for me was how it had remained in my mind, an experience of discovery and of sheer beauty.

When I was introducing the Peach Blossom Forest story on Wednesday with my thoughts on connecting with personal experience, I saw some nodding heads in our audience and heard a sussuration (how I love that word!) of agreement. I’m glad I told it. I’m also immensely grateful to Paul. Some three-quarters of an hour before we were to begin our performance, it became apparent that my scruffy old storytelling notebook with the crucial lines of poetry in it had somehow been left behind in our Welsh house. Hero of the night, Paul said he’d go back and get it. And he did – and he got back in good time for our performance. I’m so glad. When I read the lines out at the appropriate place, I could feel the depth of the silence in our audience and hear another faint sussuration of their pleasure.

PS: In the absence of any photos of peach blossom, I am including two photos of outrageously colourful blossom. The bottom one was taken in Richmond Park, the other one in Corfu.

























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4 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Sussurations”

  1. Meg Philp Says:

    What a lovely post, Mary.
    I had to read the poem over slowly twice till I felt it.
    Thanks for the reminder that magic still lives in amazing Nature.
    There are places I’ve seen that still ‘flash upon my inward eye.’ Once friends in Scotland took me to a woodland full of bluebells late in the afternoon.
    The Flowering Peach trees are bursting into bloom here in Oz so this post is very timely.

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Meg, yes, it’s very much that ‘flash upon the inward eye’ that the Peach Blossom story summons up so strongly. And it’s wonderful to know that Flowering Peach trees are bursting into bloom where you are. With many thanks, Mary

  3. Meg Philp Says:

    And I have a new word to describe audience response!

  4. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Hmmmm! (hopefully said in a sussurating kind of way). Maryx

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