Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Five short poems from "Cold Mountain," by Han-Shan

These classic Chinese poems seem like a suitable way to note our departure for a monthlong trek in the region of Chomolungma (Mt. Everest), Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal:


Clambering up Cold Mountain,
The trail goes on without end.
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, grass blurred in mist.
Slippery moss, though there's been no rain,
The pines sigh, but there's no wind.
Who can leap the world's ties and
Sit among the white clouds with me?


I was off to the Eastern Cliff.
Planned that trip for how long?
Dragged myself up by hanging vines,
Stopped halfway, by wind and fog.
Thorn snatched my arm on narrow paths,
Moss so deep it drowned my feet,
So I stopped, under a red pine.
Head among the clouds, I’ll sleep.


A thousand clouds, ten thousand streams,
Here I live, an idle soul,
Roaming snowy peaks by day,
Back to sleep under crags at night.
One by one, springs and autumns go,
Free of heat and dust, my mind.
Sweet to know there's nothing I need,
Silent as the autumn river's flood.


Ridge upon ridge, falls and hills,
Blue-green mist clasped by clouds.
Fog wets my flimsy cap,
Dew soaks my coat of straw.
A pilgrim's sandals on my feet,
An old stick grasped in my hand.
Gazing down towards the land of dust,
What is that world of dreams to me?


Always it's cold on this mountain!
Every year, and not just this.
Dense peaks, thick with snow.
Black pine-trees breathing mist.
It's August before the grass grows,
Not yet autumn when the leaves fall.
Full of illusions, I roam here,
Gaze and gaze, but can't see the sky.

 * * *

Adapted from translations by A. S. Kline (2006) and Gary Snyder.

Kline writes:  "Han-shan, the Master of Cold Mountain, and his friend Shi-te, lived in the late-eighth to early-ninth century AD, in the sacred Tien-tai Mountains of Chekiang Province, south of the bay of Hangchow. The two laughing friends, holding hands, come and go, but mostly go, dashing into the wild, careless of others' reality, secure in their own. As Han-shan himself says, his Zen is not in the poems. Zen is in the mind."

Paintings:  Li-Ch'eng (919-967), "A Solitary Temple Amid Clearing Peaks" (top);  Han-Shan and Shih-te (bottom).