Delight in drizzle

One of my newer joys in living is the discovery that I can take delight in drizzle. The incredible brightness of rain was brought home to me one recent day when I sat inside, staring out at a perfectly ordinary dull slate roof that suddenly appeared transformed. It not only glistened; it shone and it sparkled. Like lively patent leather.

On another recent day, I was enjoying, in a sort of mundane fashion, the usual features of a Chinese garden - rocks, water, plants - when suddenly, as out of nowhere, came a shower. In an instant, the garden came to life. Pools were animated with concentric circles. White plum blossoms snowed down upon a seated Buddha. And some great sonorous ''chung'' (bell) sounded an occasional moment with a profound knell.

And there have been other moments in the rain, perhaps inspired by some small awareness of the Chinese with their broad appreciation of nature, which have afforded me a start of surprise coupled with a chill-thrill of discovery. They include the wet sparkling sheen on a leaf or a flower, the drip-drip musicality of the falling water, the warm, cozy inwardness, homeboundedness, and concentration potential of the rain.

Rain, in all of its variable intensities, has enhanced the history of Chinese landscape painting for centuries.

Stylistic subtleties seem to characterize the earlier examples. A Sung dynasty (1127-1279) example, from the John Crawford collection, ''Boats Moored in Wind and Rain,'' by Yen Ts'u-yu, shows the rain indicated only by a couple of light, indeterminate lines. A Ming dynasty (1368-1644) example from the Douglas Dillon collection, ''Torrents of Driving and Flying Rain,'' indicates the fact of rain only by a couple of individuals who are carrying umbrellas.

But, moving into modern times, Chinese paintings of the rain take on far more drama and strength, far more ''impressionism'' and ''expressionism.'' Today's Li Keran of Peking, dean of contemporary Chinese landscape artists, has a ''Rain on the River Li (Guilin)'' with a remarkably effective and chilly blue-gray wash. And Huang Hsiang-chien of the Ching dynasty (1644-1912), one of whose ''travel recollections'' from the Metropolitan Museum of Art can be seen on this page, shows a torrential storm.

The sheets of rain from a dark and moody sky fall on hills, streams, trees, clouds, home, and man, to create a wet and wonderful version of a cosmic universe. The deftly structured work has a repetitive left-right axis, with blowing trees echoing the energies of the storm, and the erect outline of a small abode serving as a foil to rain and trees.

Huang's ''travel recollections'' invite us to interject ourselves, to play the armchair traveler, to move into the landscape, and to review our own summer rainstorms. We become the little fellow, alone before our own front door in the rain; the house becomes our house; and the sheets of rain our sheets of rain.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.