2016/06/08

Poems by Han-shan (Cold Mountain)3

 

MY CANDLE GUTTERS IN A SUDDEN GUST
If you were so dim in a former life,
Today's life won't  bring you light.
If you suffer poverty's sting,
Spread balm upon the life that once you led.
If today you fail to find your way,
You bequeath yourself a pathless wood.
Two lives, two shores, a fast, broad stream,
No sturdy boat at hand.  Impossible!
 

I FOLLOW MY FINGER'S END HEAVENWARD
Once, my back wedded to the solid cliff,
I sat silently, bathed in the full moon's light.
I counted there ten thousand shapes,
None with substance save the moon's own glow.
The pristine mind is empty as the moon,
I thought, and like the moon, freely shines.
By what I knew of moon I knew the mind,
Each mirror to each, profound as stone.
 

RISING EARLY
Why question the fate of the dew?
The morning sun burns dew, and drowns in clouds.
The holy mountain is not a palace
But an inn.
Once you, innkeeper,
Drive out desire, ignorance, hate,
What remains?  Enlightenment?  Affliction?
Dew is your model: nothing at all.
 

DIALOGUE
Up I climbed to a cloudy observatory
Where I met some priests, immortals all.
You can't miss them: star caps and feathered capes,
Much talk of dwwelling by the mountain streams.
"Tell me," I said, "how one becomes immortal."
"The Way, the Way," they murmured together.
"Then, there's the Supreme Elixir,
Yet to be found, the god's nectar.
Till then, striding the Way, we wait for cranes"
(Though one added, "Um ... we depart on fish.")
And so I descended, thinking, "This makes no sense.
If I aim my arrow at heaven,
It falls back to earth just the same.
If they're immortals, what do they do,
Hungry ghosts, haunting their own dead bodies?
"The mind," I said, "is moon-clear, the world
and its thousand shapes but dreams to shine upon.
The Elixir, then, is mixed in the mind."
I left a message at the temple gate:
No Masters here, but idiots and doubt.
 

IN EARLY SUMMER  I OFTEN WALK HERE
A beauty in our city,
Wears pearls loosely pendant at her waist
To wash her
In their tintinnabulation.
In the spring garden she teases
Her parrot; she strums
Her pi-pa, and the moonlight
Scatters through the strings.
All year her song enveloped our ears;
We watched her trim dance
A thousand times.
No one thinks: one cold wind blackens the hibiscus.
 

AUDIENCE
From my perch on Cold Mountain I have much
to say.
The world demurs, believing nothing.
For them, the tongue was made for honey,
Not the bitter oak -  soul's balm - I peddle.
Drifting downstream delights the simple mind;
I send them up the narrows to the source.
They carve themselves from wood, someone pulls the strings.
And they fall exhausted from their single dance.
   
I PUT IT MOST SIMPLY
Because I had the time, I sought a monk
Though the climb was shrouded in ten thousand mists.
The master kindly showed the way home,
And the moon lit my path.
 

WITH MY HANDS DANGLING FROM MY CUFFS
In their wisdom, the wise spurn me.
In mine, I reject the stupid.
Because I despise both your camps,
Let us agree to avoid one another.
I choose to bray at the cock-eyed moon,
To dance through mountain clouds at sunrise.
Why immure my hands in my sleeves,
Lock up my tongue,
And sit rigid as a chair?
My hair cascades!
 
GARDENING IN AUTUMN
No painted beams adorn my house,
Green pines suffice.
All one's life, its thousand efforts,
Evaporate at once.  Who looks well beyond,
Builds the raft, directs it smoothly
To the lotus blooms he craves?
Beneath the pines, tend to roots,
Not blossoms.
 
WHAT CATCHES THE EYE?   LUMINOUS THINGS
Between the infinite height of Heaven
And Earth's immeasurable density,
All life struggles for primacy,
Place, a red quelled hunger.
All species connive another's ruin,
Aiming precisely for belly heat.
Name one who considers cause, effect: name
A blind man who grasps the colour of milk.
 
THE LOST SCHOLAR
What a mind he had!  Master of footnotes,
Retailer of all details.  Sword tip, brush tip,
Tip of the tongue -- all penetrating.  Music,
Horsemanship, archery, each one subdued.
When he exhaled, we breathed deeply.
Calamity:
Once he found the meaning not just there,
He fled in all directions, split hairs everywhere.
 
I DIG MY HEELS IN TIGHTER AND RIDE PAST
The heart that moves the traveler
Is the heart wounded by ruins:
The dusty courtyard, the lintel fallen
At the chamber door,  a broken grave,
A shadow scurrying beneath the tumbleweed,
Wind brazen in the unpruned trees,
The bones of daily men -- these I mourn --
Unrecorded, unread, unmentioned anywhere.
 
I BROUGHT YOU SOMETHING
How just death is.  Even as I picture you,
Sturdy, tall, I drop my  eyes
To your burial mound.
Fine dust, like any man's.
I think of a world unrelieved by dawn.
I fail -- here, grass sprouts green each spring;
Each heart breaking season arrives anew,
And only the evergreen constantly grieves with me.
 
I SKETCH A MAP IN A CUP OF TEA
Travelers wonder how to reach Cold Mountain.
No road stretches so far;  the streams end far below.
Summer ice darkens the grees.
Sunrise labours to burn off the mist.
How did a gray squat thing like me arrive?
I make my journey sitting still.
 

REALITY
How transparent the emerald stream,
Transparent the moonlight above Cold Mountain.
In silence one sees through the soul,
Space, and the composed world.
 

DAY LABOR
One man steams a pot of sand for rice;
His neighbor, thirsty, sinks a well.
His brother cramps his strength, rubbing bricks
Into -- he hopes -- perfect mirrors.
The Buddha says we have on nature,
That we are truly So.
Think of that.
Not struggle, but thinking makes it so.
 

CLAMBERING DOWN,  I CANNOT LOOK BACK
Yesterday, climbing to the summit,
I risked the verge, and peered down a thousand feet.
There, clinging to the edge, a single tree
Gave way to wind, splintering.
In the sudden rain, its leaves scattered.
The late sun fell on them, and they turned to dust.
How might I prevent my sorrow
Taking root in this decay?
 

BURIAL
Peach blossoms yearn for a summer's life,
Shivering before a slight breeze, paling.
In each descent of the moon.  Of all the ancients,
Not one wakes when a bough stirs.
Leaves of my book curl, and the edges brown
In the fire that livens my mother's ashes.
When I stumble my feet raise dust
Where once the greenest sea rolled.
 
SUDDENLY, ONE DAY IS NOT LIKE ANOTHER
Sprawled out on a boulder,
I watch the icy stream swirl past --
A small amusement, one of many:
Daring the cliff's edge in settled fog,
Receiving it as a place of rest;
Tracing the shadows of trees inn the last sun;
Looking inward at the earthworks of my mind
As the lotus blooms there in the mind.
 
I DO NOT ANSWER
WHY I STARE INTO PUDDLES
Respectfully, I thought to live with my brother:
I wore books in my sleeve, plowing fields.
But my brother berated me;
My wife found him wise.
I have renounced this desert world.
I read what  love, roving.
You there!  A ladle's water, no more:
Buoy this perch stranded in the carriage track.
 
HUMAN NATURE
The mushroom and the cricket decline within a day.
Why then should I take it so to heart,
Knowing life's brevity, that friends
Endure decades before they perish?
To think of perishing -- to think endurance --
Saddens me, and sadness I cannot bear.
What's left to a man to do?
Slough off this cocoon and fly to the mountains.
 

THE PALLBEARER'S SONG
Why all this infernal weeping,
I ask?  Why these tears, decorous as pearls?
Parting is our nature; once separated,
Only mourning comes again and again.
And poverty, if that's your lot,
Settles on you without explanation.
We meet in the graveyard, all tears.
What follows does not concern me.
 
POETICS ON COLD MOUNTAIN
If you would read my poems,
Prepare yourself well:  be pure of mind.
Open your tight-fisted heart; flatter 
None but honesty with your upright word;
From the bag of Self, unpack evil,
Refolding what remains, your Buddha-body.
This is your first assignment.  Do it now,
And quickly.   I speak an empire's law.

CONUNDRUM
Sir, in my youth the emperor loved books;
I studied arms and served without reward.
In the next regime, I pondered books;
The emperor cultivated military men.
Now, having mastered books and war,
Having served both war and books,
I've grown old.  What is left to me?
The emperor loves youth.

DIVIDENDS
Some men love a bulging storehouse
Just as the owl adores her brood.
In time, the owlets eat their mother,
And wealth consumes the man with interest.
Fling coins abroad, sowing blessings;
Plant them at your door and reap disaster.
Having nothing to lose; lose nothing.
An empty pocket swings at ease, like wings.
 

IN THE DEEP WOODS,
ON MY HANDS AND KNEES
You find a flower half-buried in leaves,
And in your eye its very fate resides.
Loving beauty, you caress the bloom;
Soon enough, you'll sweep petals from the floor.
Terrible to love the lovely so,
To count your own years, to say "I'm old,"
To see a flower half-buried in leaves
And come face to face with what you are.
  
MOONLIGHT CASTS SHADOWS OF ITS OWN
I think of my travels, scenes
Men seek to say they've seen them.
Loving mountains, I conquered mountains,
Loving water, I mastered a thousand streams,
For fellowship, saw friends off at Pi Pa Valley,
For sensibility, strummed my lute at Parrot Isle.
How could I have known this broken pine awaited me,
Where, knees hugged to my chest, I sit alone?
 

THE MOON IS NOT AN EMBLEM
However remote in the night's depths,
Stars incline towards each other in constellations.
Amid the shadows of many rocks, I raise but one lamp,
For the moon arches, drawing me out
In radiance, every facet cooly lit.
It is my mind, suspended.

AND IN THE EVENING,
NOTABLE SILENCES
At Cold Mountain, clouds enfold the sharp cliffs.
Below, the river eddies around sharp stones.
From here I hear the ancient fisherman
Sing to his single oar, fashioning his wake.
I do not choose to listen, but the mountain
Pines at my secluded thought, nonetheless.
The sparrow, unperturbed, brings twine
From the old man's net, and busies himself on my wall.

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