08 April, 2009

Poem o' the Day

As the Joker once so memorably said in the Animated Batman, "Who's for Chinese?" I'm in the mood for a trip up Cold Mountain. And I've even got more than one translation to choose from.

Han-shan, as you'll see, was a fantastic poet with a quirky sense of humor. Nobody knows who he really was, but when it comes to poems and legends, the myth is often more important than the man.

We'll start with A.S. Kline's translation, which captures the spartan nature of so much Zen poetry:


Don’t you know the poems of Han-shan?

They’re better for you than scripture-reading.

Cut them out and paste them on a screen,

Then you can gaze at them from time to time.

The man knew how to promote his poetry!

Here's 26, translated on ChinaPage.com:

If you are looking for a place to rest,
Cold Mountain is a good place to stay.
The breeze flowing through the dark pines
Sounds better the closer you come.
And under the trees a white-haired man
Mumbles over his Taoist texts.
Ten years now he hasn't gone home;
He has even forgotten the road he came by.
Lot less staccato, more flowing. Interesting how different translators see the exact same text. Here's A.S. Kline again with the self-same poem:


Are you looking for a place to rest?

Cold Mountain’s good for many a day.

Wind sings here in the black pines,

Closer you are, the better it sounds.

There’s an old man sitting by a tree,

Muttering about the things of Tao.

Ten years now, it’s been so long

This one’s forgotten his way home.

The first may be a touch more poetic to Western ears, but the second seems to capture the essence of Han-shan a bit better: simple, clear, and concise. Either way works.

If you read all of the Cold Mountain collection in either translation, you'll see exactly why a man might want to forget the way home.

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