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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Friday, January 12, 2018

Poem for a Warming World

It’s a warming world today
Winter looking so bedraggled
A wet and dirty scotch blanket
Draped across the landscape
A mixture of stubble and snow

You can see the earth heave a sigh
As it exhales its ghost presence
In the thick mist that clings
To the surface of things
Rising in fleeting wisps
Full of ethereal longing

Changeable as we are
The pinheads and mallards
Bobbing along the shoreline
Are quick to take wing
At the slightest hint of
Footfall approaching 
And soon merge back
Into the mist from
Whence they came

Thursday, January 11, 2018

No Awakening at All

The great awakening
Is no awakening after all
Just awareness brimming
The cup of the world
In the warming sun each drip
Adds to an overflowing brain
Onto the gravel that lies
Astraddle the snowbank
And the scattered leaves
Doing just as they please
With no help from me at all
Only the ubiquitous not-me
That precipitates each drip
And leads to such ruinous fall



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I've just published a new issue of the Tang Spirit newsletter which features my translations of poems by the 8th century Chan monk Jiao Ran.  Please click here to sign up for your copy if you're not already a subscriber.



Sunday, January 7, 2018

In the Chan Temple (by Jiao Ran)

Here's a poem I translated recently by Jiao Ran, an 8th century Chan monk which provides a lovely albeit brief account of monastic practice and life during the Tang Dynasty.  I'll be publishing a new issue of the Tang Spirit newsletter this coming week with more translations of Jiao Ran's poems along with a short essay more generally discussing the tradition of spiritual poetry.  Please click here if you would like to sign up for a free subscription.


In the Chan Temple

Of the ten thousand Dharmas
Found out beyond the gates
So profuse and confused
Making knowledge seem muddled

Believers look for balance
From one lineage or another
Or else alone pursue truth
Under Heaven and Earth

But in everyday practice
What you possess is prior
To all such things and
In peace abides

True wisdom is found
In the study of stillness and
The light that shines forth
From the origin of
All ten thousand things

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皎然

万法出无
纷纷使智昏

徒称氏子
独立天地元

实际且何有
物先安可存

知不
照出万重源


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Snow Poems (by Liu Zhong Yuan and Bai Juyi)

White out conditions on the East End this morning, as we are besieged by a winter storm with cyclonic winds coming out of the northeast. Our dog Bayleigh, who is part Chow, frolicked in the larger drifts, and she seemed quite eager to start her Iditarod training.  My hands were too cold to venture a photo, nor did conditions seem suitable for my cheap Samsung phone.  So instead I came back home and translated this poem by Liu Zhong Yuan which pretty much captures the scene I encountered along the creek this morning, that is excluding the old man in the straw hat - that would be a metaphor for me and Bayleigh I suppose.

Snowy River


Across a thousand mountains
Birds flown out of sight
For ten thousand miles
The path extends
Not a footprint
To be found

A solitary boat
Where an old man
In a broad rimmed
Straw hat
Fishes in solitude
On the cold snowy river

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江雪

千山鳥飛絕
萬徑人蹤滅
孤舟蓑笠翁
獨釣寒江雪




The image above is a painting attributed to Wang Wei.  Rather it is a photo of the painting and the painting itself has now been lost.  It was formerly in the Imperial collection of the Qing Emperors but it disappeared over the course of the calamitous wars and upheavals of China's 20th century.  It seems to be the last trace we have of one of Wang Wei's paintings.


And since the forecast calls for snow all day here as a lagniappe is a second snow poem, this one from the incomparable Bai Juyi.



Snowy Night

Under the covers
And still shivering
Truly astounded
Again I look
Out the window
Into the luminous night
Filled with awareness
Of the heavy snow
That has fallen
At this late hour
The only sound I hear
Is the breaking
Of a bamboo branch

夜雪
白居易

衾枕冷
夜深知雪重
时闻折竹声