Viva Tang

Ten thousand and two texts
A thousand and three tweets
644 Facebook status updates
87 cell phone messages save or delete

Enough already!
Take a deep breath
Leave behind the technology
And go out

To receive the wind’s news from Bo Juyi
To find the message from Wang Wei on the river bank
To sip Li Po’s wine with a smile
To join Tu Fu in the battle against inhumanity

Scribbled after Reading Weinberger’s New Directions
Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry

Take the vows
Follow the precepts

Study the sutras
Honor my teachers

Keep quiet
Be relentless

Sunday Afternoon

Sitting outside at Stella and Bella’s Cafe
The Presidential debate two hours away
Reading Su Tung-P’o’s bamboo poem
Will Clinton deliver the knock-out blow?
On my ballot, I’ll write in: Chuang Tzu

Dharma Brother Wang Wei

Devoted Buddhist
Noticer of the minute particulars
Painter of vast emptiness
Appreciator of interbeing moment by moment
Befriender of sages, visitors and travelers moving in and out of the Ch’an world

His wife dead at thirty
He gravitates to Buddha,
The Dharma, the Sangha
And what better sangha
Than the 10,000 things
Which come and go?

After Watson’s Translation #100 of Han-shan

Do you have the scribbles of Shimmelstoy in your bookmarks?
They’re better for you than the Lotus Sutra!

“Like,” share, and read them over and over–
The bodhisattva in those verses is really only you!

Happy Every Day

I take both grace and insult
With cheerful equanimity
— Du Fu

Dear Wendy,

Congrats on your decision to move to China and, as Kerouac advised, be in love with your Shanghai life. I marvel at your ability to trust your intuition.

You mentioned when we met at Northwest Coffee your daily commitment to being happy in the moment. Did I tell you about a former student whose Chinese name had the wonderful meaning “Happy Every Day”?

This reminds me of one of my favorite poets, Han-Shan, whom I first read about decades ago in Kerouac’s novel, The Dharma Bums. Therein, the character Japhy Ryder (modeled on poet Gary Snyder) is shown translating Han-Shan as part of the requirements for his program of study at UC Berkeley. I also read Burton Watson’s Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the T’ang poet Han-Shan, many of which I’ve memorized (they’re typically short—8 lines or so). Here’s one by Watson that makes me think of the resolve to be happy in the present moment:

Be happy if there’s something to be happy about!
When the moment comes, do not lose it!
Though they say life lasts a hundred years,
Who has seen a full thirty thousand days?
You’re in this world no more than an instant,
So don’t sit there grumbling about money.
At the end of the Classic of Filial Piety
It tells you all about what funerals are like.

Since you were in my class in January 2008, I’ve feasted on great translators of Chinese poetry from Snyder and Watson to Arthur Cooper, Kenneth Rexroth, David Young, David Hinton, Arthur Waley, and Ezra Pound. Here are some random passages from the translators and editors of these volumes:

In the 20th century, American poetry is inextricable from classical Chinese poetry and the Chinese language itself. – Eliot Weinberger

… Li Po being the Taoist (intuitive, amoral, detached), and Tu Fu the Confucian (cerebral, moral, socially-engaged). Informative though it may be, this contrast is a simplification. To be a complete human being, a Chinese intellectual must be both Taoist and Confucian, and this was true of both Li Po and Tu Fu. – David Hinton

Much Far Eastern poetry is concerned with the transitoriness of human values, the ephemeral beauties of nature, the impermanent illusion of the ego, with the life of man as a tiny series of unknown incidents in the flow of the universe. – Kenneth Rexroth

For Po [Juyi], the poem is genially a kind of relaxed rambling, open to all thought and experience, whether petty or profound. – David Hinton

Actually, what we want poetry to do is guide lovers toward ecstasy, give witness to the dignity of old people, intensify human bonds, elevate the community, and improve public spirit. And so, it is in just that humanness, that delicate—I’m almost tempted to use the word sweet—appreciation of the details of human life, families, the frustrations of employment with the government, and the frustrations of being a hermit, that we respond to most deeply in Chinese poetry, having a poetry ourselves which is so different in a way, so mythological, so political and so elevated, that it can’t deal with ordinary human affairs often. – Gary Snyder

Du Fu is the poet who truly originated the lyric poem as we presently know and value it. –David Young

For a thousand years, [Li Ch’ing-chao and Chao Ming-ch’eng’s] marriage has been celebrated by the literary gentry as an ideal one. They wrote poems to each other. They shared the same passion for poetry and classics, music, painting, and the art of calligraphy. – Kenneth Rexroth

Anlin, one of my current students at Maryville, told me with compassion that it’s impossible to translate Chinese poems! So much must be lost, even with the best effort and talent! While I have to rely on such translators, you may be able to work through the originals. If you ever do, let me know what poets and poems you enjoy!


Here’s one of Rexroth’s translations of Su T’ung-Po,”The Turning Year”

Nightfall. Clouds scatter and vanish.
The sky is pure and cold.
Silently the River of Heaven turns in the Jade Vault.
If tonight I do not enjoy life to the full,
Next month, next year, who knows where I will be?

This page is part of my book, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

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