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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 ...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Journey with a Damaged Heart

Hold back a sob or two
Learn to chant clearly

A bruised bone
A hidden injury
Plain and simple

Such is autumnal beauty
On the verge
Of the first frost

The leaves still
On the trees
Crying in the wind
And rain

In the lamplight
Blue and black
The flowers sleep
Daubed in ink

Falling it shimmers
So goes the moth’s dance

The old walls
Have given birth
To a new layer of dust

My soul has been bridled
Now that this dream
Is put into words


咽咽学楚吟     病骨幽素
秋姿白     木叶啼
灯青膏歇     落照蛾舞
古壁生凝     魂梦中

Li He writes with great clarity of feeling, while also managing to maintain considerable opacity of meaning.  This is an important variation on the Tang spirit, presenting us with a gift of poetry that is very much emotionally accessible and yet something of a mystery at the same time. Falling it shimmers/ So goes the moth's dance.  How beautiful and evocative a line is that!        
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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Song of the Open Field (Li He)

This morning, for the sake of variety, I translated a poem by Li He, a Tang poet whose work I am not generally familiar with, other than his reputation as a restless and eccentric soul, who often wrote about hungry ghosts and supernatural spirits.  The poem I chose to translate though is quite naturalistic and accessible, while also carrying something of a mysterious undertone.  It may help you better appreciate this poem to know that Li He's life was short and far from sweet, being marred by personal misfortune, a very ungainly appearance and ill-health - a strong sense of which comes through for me here, an overall effect that strikes me as beautiful and deeply unsettled at the same time.

Song of the Open Field

A crow with its feathers is the arrow
A mulberry tree on the hill is the bow
Shooting skyward and descending
With a clump of straw in its beak
Its plain black garment loose fitting
Rushing headlong into the north wind
I raise this cup of wine in the open field
And sing a song to the setting sun

A man may bend being weak of heart
Almost to the point of breaking
Withered and thriving unequally
Always railing against heaven
But the chill wind does transform
The spring willow will revive once more
Its long branches to be savored
Like a fine mist or wisp of smoke


翎羽箭山桑弓       仰天射落鸿
麻衣黑肥冲北       酒日晚歌田中

男儿屈心不       枯荣不等嗔天公
春柳       条条看即烟蒙蒙

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Poem from Layman Pang

In the annals of Chan Buddhism there is a notable figure named Layman Pang, who is often compared to Vimalakirti, as an exemplar for how to pursue a dharma path outside of the monastic orders.  Among other things Layman Pang wrote a few very fine poems, one of which I translated this morning.

Every day the same routine
Only with myself in harmony
Not right or wrong but abiding
Nothing revealed or misplaced
Paying no heed to purple or vermillion
Or the distant mountains beyond the dust
Just the miracle and wonder here and now
Of hauling water and firewood