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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reaching for the Extremity - by the Daoist poet Yuan Jie (元结)

After a busy week at work, this afternoon I finally had a chance to resume my practice of translating Tang poetry.  I found this little gem of a poem by the Daoist poet Yuan Jie ().  I don't know too much about him or his work but the few poems of his I've read so far are infused with the spirit of the Way.  This one almost reads like a gloss on the Chuang Tzu or Dao De Jing and it is full of some wonderful phrases (very difficult to translate), such as the fifth stanza - 假翼兮凤 - which I have rendered as the falsity surrounding the target's center of the virtuous heart.

Reaching for the Extremity

(a poem in contemplation of the origin by the Daoist poet Yuan Jie)

Under Heaven
 A forgotten place
Overrun with weeds
Desolate and vast

But the energy
Is utterly boundless
Although ashen gray
It's always flourishing

Ascending there
What a person finds
Is truly unexpected

A storehouse of
Clarity and solitude
Upon attaining that
Prime and utmost spot

At this primal extremity
The spirit quickens
And distinguishes itself

Just consider
Its singular appearance
Meager and troubling
And barely defined

Yet also consider
From this Vacuity
No harm to the Self
Will come

Even if the heart
Grows agitated
And fear rings out

Remember that
Falsity surrounds
The target's center 
Of the virtuous heart

It’s a long journey
Riding the wind and
Soaring above

Clasp your hands and
Retain vital energy
Hold on to the source
In its richness and depth

Feast there until
You attain full harmony
Which will last forever
And all day

 *  *  *  *


莽兮杳泱茫    气浩浩兮色苍苍
上何有兮人不    清寥兮成元
彼元    思一兮藐
思不从兮空自    兮意惶
思假翼兮      长风兮上
揖元气兮本深    餐至和兮永

*  *  *  *

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