Thursday, June 5, 2008

Han-shan and Cold Mountain


It has been a crazy, hectic week in my world. Thank goodness for poetry! At the close of the day I have been dipping into the marvelous, lucid world of the Cold Mountain poems, by the T'ang Dynasty hermit/poet Han-shan (as brilliantly translated by Burton Watson). Regarded as the finest of the T'ang era Buddhist poets, his work was produced during the flowering of Chinese Zen and is still prized in contemporary Zen sects. Han-shan's own words express my feelings about his verses so well that I'll simply quote them here.

"Do you have the poems of Han-shan in your house?
They're better for you than sutra-reading!
Write them out and paste them on a screen
Where you can glance them over from time to time."

The following is one of the poems that recently been much on my mind. It is labeled #98 in Watson's collection of 100 selections, first published in 1962.

"In the late sun I descended the western hill,
Light streaming over the grass and trees,
Till I came to a dark and gloomy place
Where pines and creepers grew thick together.
Within crouched many tigers;
When they saw me, their fur stood on end. 
Not so much as a knife in my hand,
Did I not gasp with fear?"

The image above is a detail from a Chinese rug pictured on the website of  
Thomas Cole's Antique Rugs and Textiles. If you appreciate textile art at all, check them out at: