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Sunday, September 27, 2020

Meditating in Moonlight (by Han Shan)

I first took note of this Han Shan poem thanks to a Twitter posting by @EstherHawdon.  What caught my eye was the first stanza, which struck me as unusual for Tang poetry, going beyond the typical Yin-Yang cosmology as a way of describing the workings of celestial light.  But as @EstherHawdon pointed out to me, the Chinese astronomer Zhang Heng (AD 78-139) had been a very early propounder of the theory that the moon borrows its light from the sun.

In any case, notable as the first stanza is, I find the second stanza even more remarkable -- Han Shan's own unique observations about indirect illumination - how the sun lights the moon and the moon itself provides illumination for the poet's own soul.

Meditating in front
Of a rocky cliff under the
Glow of the full moon
It's brilliant as day time
Everything casts a shadow
But without inherent light

The spirit is a vast void
Naturally clear
Emptiness contained
Such as in the depths
Of a mysterious cave
The same cause that makes
The moon visible makes
The moon a pivot on which
The heart's yearning turns

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