Thursday, August 13, 2015

Midsummer Festival, Wandering Up as Far as the Monastery

Midsummer Festival, Wandering Up as Far as the Monastery
By by Su Tung-P'o

Translated from the Chinese by David Hinton

I was going wherever I happened to go,
giving myself over to whatever I met

when incense drew my recluse steps to
mats spread open and pure, tea poured.
Light rain delayed my return, quiet
mystery outside window lovelier still:
bowl-dome summits blocking out sun,
grasses and trees turned shadowy green
Climbing quickly to the highest shrine,
I gazed out across whole Buddha-realms,
city walls radiant beneath Helmet Peak
and cloudy skies adrift in Tremor Lake.
Such joy in all this depth and clarity,
such freedom in wide-open mountains,
my recluse search wasn’t over when dusk
cook-smoke rose above distant villages.
Back home now, this day held in mind
shines bright and clear. I can’t sleep,
and those monks are sleeping awake too
sharing a lamp’s light in ch’an stillness

How often we wish to go wherever our feet take us and see whatever we wanted to see? The poet has written this poem after such a solitary walk among a mountainous province. The joy of resting in a wayside tavern with tea and watching the surrounds, mountain peaks and Buddhist monasteries, its stillness serenity, are captured in all its richness in this poem. The reader senses as if he had taken a walk with the poet. The poet feels so energized and invigorated by what he has seen that he can’t even sleep when he is back home.

Su Tung-P'o (1037-1101), one of the greatest poets of Sung Dynasty, was a civil servant who traveled to numerous political posts throughout the state. Hence, much of his poetry is a catalogue of his travels--their diverse landscapes, inhabitants, songs and folklore. With his lyrical precision and astonishing eye for detail, Su Tung-P'o renders the Chinese countryside and mountain landscape with a vivid particularity as evidenced in this poem.
Note: Ch’an is Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word ‘Dhyana’ or meditation
Source: Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China By David Hinton

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