bù nián bù tuō, bù jí bù lí 不黏不脱，不即不离
Neither Obsessed with nor Detached from the Objects Depicted
In writing poetry, poets should neither totally adhere to nor digress too much from the objects depicted. This term includes two aspects: the relationship between words, images and the objects depicted, and the relationship between the poem’s theme and the objects depicted. It emphasizes that if the objects depicted resemble the subject too closely, the poem will sound insipid and mundane; but if the objects depicted are too detached from the subject, the poem will sound superficial and farfetched. In addition to the requirement of depicting objects, odes to objects should also convey implied meaning which cannot be forced. Otherwise, they will quite likely fall into a stereotype. Only when a proper balance is achieved between the depiction of objects and its implied sentiment can excellent odes to objects be produced.
The difficulty of writing odes to objects lies in how to avoid both excessive adherence to and total detachment from the objects depicted. A poem thus created will be marvelous, natural and elegant. (Yuan Mei: Addendum to Suiyuan Remarks on Poetry)
The best odes to objects, according to Zen philosophy, should not resemble real-life objects too closely nor be totally detached from them. There have been many poems depicting plum blossoms since ancient times. For example, Lin Hejing’s poetic terms like “subtle fragrance” and “scattered shadows” of plum blossoms have been passed on over centuries, but Huang Shangu remarked that they were not so good as Lin’s other lines: “A garden of half-blossomed plums after the wintry snow, a slanting twig visible over the fence by the riverside.” Insightful people believe that Su Shi’s poetic line “Miraculous is the single twig slanting out of the bamboo grove” is unrivalled and that only those who really know how to appreciate poetry understand why this is so. (Wang Shizhen: A Postscript to “The Plum Blossom Ode by Huang Congsheng”)