The start of a new year seems like the right time think about things – looking backward to look forward or something like that. I am happy that this blog has given me a forum to experiment and show my work and I definitely plan to continue over the coming year. I have a number of other creative projects underway and in the works (maybe too many!) Perhaps if there’s one thing to focus on this year, it’s having a better balance between all aspects of life – most of us could use some of that – I know I could!
Here’s a short poem about poetry – in particular, the poetry of a certain Tang Dynasty Chinese monk named Han Shan – as interpreted by the American poet, Peter Stambler… It seems about right for a cold winter day…enjoy!
The Uses of Poetry
To join happy men, collect Han Shan’s poems,
More sonorous, more savory than a morning’s sutras.
With bamboo shoots, pin them to your cracked walls.
Read them over in the evenings, keeping out the cold.
Today’s doodle courtesy of my studious friend. He didn’t notice I was drawing him until I was almost finished… and yes! he’s practising writing Chinese!
I found the above poem recently and wanted to share it. The poet is Hu Shih (胡適) a 20th Century Chinese poet who pioneered the use of common language (as opposed to classical) in Chinese poetry and philosophy.
The first cup caresses my dry lips and throat.
The second shatters the walls of my lonely sadness.
The third searches the dry rivulets of my soul to find the stories of five thousand scrolls.
With the fourth the pain of life’s grievances evaporates through my pores.
The fifth relaxes my muscles and bones become light.
With the sixth I find the path that leads to the immortal ancestors.
Oh the seventh cup! Better not take it! If I had it the only feeling
Is the fresh wind blowing through my wings,
As I make my way to Penglai.
Lu Tong, Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907)
Such a beautiful poem by Tang dynasty poet, Lu Tong! I have seen it on many tea websites and blogs with various translations but I have not found a name to credit with this particular lovely poetic version. You might want to know that Mount Penglai, mentioned in the last line is the mythical home of the immortals in the Eastern Sea.
As cranes are a symbol of immortality, they are flying away over the misty mountains to accompany that fortunate tea drinker on his way – should he drink that seventh cup!
When I was very young, one of our spring rituals was to go out and gather a few choice, newly budding tree branches. Usually we would select crabapple or maple or willow to bring into the house, place in a jar of water and watch the spring unfold at an accelerated rate compared to what seemed, to young eyes, an eternity of slowness evolving outside in the cool damp of March.
Because spring always holds the seed of autumn, I thought of this poem from Encounters with Cold Mountain on remembering the spring twigs. This is a lovely little book which contains modern versions, written by Peter Stambler, of ancient poems by a Tang dynasty (8-9th century) Chinese hermit poet. I find the touching words still fresh today. (Tomorrow I will definitely share something more upbeat!)
After dinner, I close my door
As if I could hand it to you, I break a willow branch;
Its leaves shake free and scatter downstream.
I keep my cottage in wife-lorn country;
You seal your rooms in lost-husband province.
Between us the sky arches like a rounded sea;
No ship, no traveler knows the opposite shore.
If you stand outdoors searching a mutual moon,
Do not count pairs of sparrows, flying wing by wing.
A friend who is studying Chinese literature suggested this favourite by Wang Wei as the starting point for me to draw an image. Here it is with the translation he sent with it below.
君自故鄉來， 應知故鄉事。 來日綺窗前， 寒梅著花未？
You, who came from my hometown,
can surely tell me hometown news.
The day you left, before the silk-curtained window,
Had the plum opened a winter blossom?
At first, I thought that perhaps a scene representing a last cup of tea with a friend before setting out on the travels would give some feeling of nostalgia for those left behind.Then I decided to try another perhaps more poignant view which could represent the sadness of the one left behind and lost love.Here are both. I would love to know which you prefer!