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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Words from the Heart (by Qi Ji)

This morning I translated this lovely poem by the Buddhist monk Qi Ji who lived in the waning years of the Tang Dynasty, a time of considerable social unrest.  It made me think of Anthony Bourdain and so I want to dedicate this translation to Bourdain and his final journey to parts unknown.  Many of us have been shaken by his suicide, even those who only infrequently watched his show.  There is something so deeply discordant between Bourdain's evident gusto for life and experience, his deep and broad engagement with the world, and his sudden lonely demise in a hotel room.  How can we hope to make sense of such peripeteias?

If poetry were to falter
The pain of aging and sickness
Would double in depth
The best doctors in the world
Would be no help no matter
How much gold was spent

What’s left of life should
Not be frittered away
Not dead yet there’s no harm in
More joyful chanting and singing

Water flows without
Return or rest so it goes
With each breath
White clouds leave no trace
For anyone to chase after

In idleness the body rests
By idleness possessed
To vanish in place amidst
The yellowing leaves
And a cool breeze
A cicada in the woods






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