cold mountain poems

han-shan and shih-te

Sat on the cliff today,
sat so long the mist burned off.
Like a road the stream was, clear at its mouth,
a long time searching from a green crag top.
White clouds cast clear shadows in the silence,
light of the moon still floats, lingering.
No dust, no dirt on me,
How could this heart hold grief?



I re-read Kerouac’s Dharma Bums recently, and didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as I did when I was in my 20’s. But I wondered about the Japhy Ryder character and through the magic of the intermcweb learned about Gary Snyder. Beloved by the Beats, who were a bit urban and cissy, for his backcountry real man ways he also taught them about Zen. After stints as a Zen monk, and dropping out into deep ecology primitivism he ended up with a cosy middle-class life as a university professor.
Anyway, he was a poet and one of his first publications was a translation of the Cold Mountain Poems by the mythical Han Shan. I wanted to read his translation but found someone else’s first and read that. Han Shan and his sidekick Shih-te were the original hobo poets. They dropped out, lived in the mountains, and graffitied poems on rocks and walls. The poems are about being with nature and away from the entanglements of corrupted life.
The point. This is the Daoist ideal of harmonious existence with the pure world, and while there are Buddhist, Confucian, and even Communist elements to Chinese Medicine its core is this ideal existence as the paradigm of healthy life. But it’s cold in those mountains and hifi won’t work so the Moxa Punk isn’t going to tell you to abandon your modern life to be healthy. Even Gary Snyder ended up in cardigans and hush puppies.
Small steps, little changes, harmonious treatment. Dao for now. Pow.
Just found some translation by Gary Snyder, here.
Scroll down the page for fun. There’s also translation by D.T. Suzuki and Arthur Waley, who was the first to translate Tale of Genji, and Journey to the West – the Monkey King legend – into English.

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