In Which We Go To The Mountains For Wintry Comfort On This Unreassurable Sunday

The poet Gary Snyder translated the following poems by Han-shan, the poet of Cold Mountain.

He includes a preface by the local governor.

Preface to the Poems of Han-shanby Lu Ch’iu-yin, Governor of T’ai Prefecture

No one knows what sort of man Han-shan was.

There are old people who knew him: they say he was a poor man, a crazy character. He lived alone seventy Li (23 miles) west of the T’ang-hsing district of T’ien-t’ai at a place called Cold Mountain.

He often went down to the Kuo-ch’ing Temple. At the temple lived Shih’te, who ran the dining hall. He sometimes saved leftovers for Han-shan, hiding them in a bamboo tube. Han-shan would come and carry it away; walking the long veranda, calling and shouting happily, talking and laughing to himself. Once the monks followed him, caught him, and made fun of him. He stopped, clapped his hands, and laughed greatly – Ha Ha! – for a spell, then left.

He looked like a tramp. His body and face were old and beat. Yet in every word he breathed was a meaning in line with the subtle principles of things, if only you thought of it deeply. Everything he said had a feeling of Tao in it, profound and arcane secrets.His hat was made of birch bark, his clothes were ragged and worn out, and his shoes were wood.

Thus men who have made it hide their tracks: unifying categories and interpenetrating things. On that long veranda calling and singing, in his words of reply Ha Ha! – the three worlds revolve. Sometimes at the villages and farms he laughed and sang with cowherds. Sometimes intractable, sometimes agreeable, his nature was happy of itself. But how could a person without wisdom recognize him?

[snip]

I asked some people around the temple, “There used to be a Master named Feng-kan here, Where is his place? And where can Han-shan and Shih-te be seen?” A monk named T’ao-ch’iao spoke up: “Feng-kan the Master lived in back of the library. Nowadays nobody lives there; a tiger often comes and roars. Han-shan and Shih-te are in the kitchen.” The monk led me to Feng-kan’s yard. Then he opened the gate: all we saw was tiger tracks. I asked the monks Tao-ch’iao and Pao-te, “When Feng-kan was here, what was his job?”

The monks said, “He pounded and hulled rice. At night he sang songs to amuse himself.” Then we went to the kitchen, before the stoves. Two men were facing the fire, laughing loudly. I made a bow. The two shouted Ho! at me. They struck their hands together -Ha Ha! – great laughter. They shouted. Then they said, “Feng-kan – loose-tounged, loose-tounged. You don’t recognize Amitabha, (the Bodhisattva of mercy) why be courteous to us?” The monks gathered round, surprise going through them. “Why has a big official bowed to a pair of clowns?” The two men grabbed hands and ran out of the temple. I cried, “Catch them” – but they quickly ran away. Han-shan returned to Cold Mountain. I asked the monks, “Would those two men be willing to settle down at this temple?” I ordered them to find a house, and to ask Han-shan and Shih-te to return and live at the temple.

I returned to my district and had two sets of clean clothes made, got some incense and such, and sent it to the temple – but the two men didn’t return. So I had it carried up to Cold Mountain. The packer saw Han-shan, who called in a loud voice, “Thief! Thief!” and retreated into a mountain cave. He shouted, “I tell you man, strive hard” – entered the cave and was gone. The cave closed of itself and they weren’t able to follow. Shih-te’s tracks disappeared completely.

I ordered Tao-ch’iao and the other monks to find out how they had lived, to hunt up the poems written on bamboo, wood, stones, and cliffs – and also to collect those written on the walls of people’s houses. There were more than three hundred. On the wall of the Earth-shrine Shih-te had written some gatha (Buddhist verse or song). It was all brought together and made into a book.I hold to the principle of the Buddha-mind. It is fortunate to meet with men of Tao, so I have made this eulogy.

You can find the 24 poems translated by Gary Snyder in their entirety here.

A few of my favorites follow.

Gary Snyder looking Damien Weberesque

from Cold Mountain Poems

by Han-shan

translated by Gary Snyder

1

The path to Han-shan’s place is laughable,

A path, but no sign of cart or horse.

converging gorges—hard to trace their twists

Jumbled cliffs—unbelievably rugged.

A thousand grasses bend with dew,

A hill of pines hums in the wind.

And now I’ve lost the shortcut home,

Body asking shadow, how do you keep up?

2

In the tangle of cliffs I chose a place—

Bird-paths, but no trails for men.

What’s beyond the yard?

White clouds clinging to vague rocks.

Now I’ve lived here—how many years—

Again and again, spring and winter pass.

Go tell families with silverware and cars

“What’s the use of all that noise and money?”

6

Men ask the way to Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain: there’s no through trail.

In summer, ice doesn’t melt

The rising sun blurs in swirling fog.

How did I make it?

My heart’s not the same as yours.

If your heart was like mine

You’d get it and be right here.

12

In my first thirty years of life

I roamed hundreds and thousands of miles.

Walked by rivers through deep green grass

Entered cities of boiling red dust.

Tried drugs, but couldn’t make Immortal;

Read books and wrote poems on history.

Today I’m back at Cold Mountain:

I’ll sleep by the creek and purify my ears.

17

If I hide out at Cold Mountain

Living off mountain plants and berries—

All my lifetime, why worry?

One follows his karma through.

Days and months slip by like water,

Time is like sparks knocked off flint.

Go ahead and let the world change—

I’m happy to sit among these cliffs.

“Sandpaperback” – Ben Lee (mp3)

“El Manana (Metronomy remix)” – Gorillaz (mp3)

“My Favourite Wet Wednesday Afternoon (Peel Session)” – The Siddeleys (mp3)

20

Some critic tried to put me down—

“Your poems lack the Basic Truth of Tao”

And I recall the old-timers

Who were poor and didn’t care.

I have to laugh at him,

He misses the point entirely,

Men like that

Ought to stick to making money.

24

When men see Han-shan

They all say he’s crazy

And not much to look at

Dressed in rags and hides.

They don’t get what I say

And I don’t talk their language.

All I can say to those I meet:

“Try and make it to Cold Mountain.”

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

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24 thoughts on “In Which We Go To The Mountains For Wintry Comfort On This Unreassurable Sunday

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