Wednesday, June 29, 2011
MOUNTAINS AND CHINESE POETS
It's been a happy day of seeing people I enjoy visiting with from 9 this morning to about 5:30 this evening. Even fed a good country dinner. The really good kind. Green beans out of a garden, corn from a garden, fried chicken leg, tomato and cornbread with butter. One of the joys of living in the mountains. The people seen today were from the entire span of time I've been in the mountains. Each one brought to mind a certain period of time, the people I knew at the time, memories of people long gone on, memories of good friends, good people, people I've learned from and am grateful to God for the opportunity to know them. I've been reviewing people special to me lately. It's like something that would be in a horoscope, the moon is such and such house going through such and such sign. Whatever it is, I'm enjoying these opportunities to see people I know and care about, but seldom see.
I was reminded of my initial purpose expatriating to the mountains and not looking back from the first day. Things came back like Wallace Stevens' poem, The Poem That Took The Place Of A Mountain. A poem by Chinese poet Han Yu, 768-824, called Southern Mountains I read several times. He's writing about the mountains of southern China. I translated it conceptually into my mountains of southern USA. Here are some lines from Han Yu's Southern Mountains. Indigo Field in the first line is the name of a town.
I entered the mountains at Indigo Field
Craning my head til the neck was stiff.
Then Heaven darkened into a vast snowstorm---
Tear-filled eyes blurred to blindness.
The steepening road, straight up
Like a waterfall, was stretched into ice.
With robes tucked up I pushed my horse,
Stumbling falling sliding back again.
I also read the poems of a Buddhist monk Han Shan of uncertain date, possibly late 7th century, early 8th, maybe. His book of poems is called Cold Mountain, which is also a translation of Han Shan. His name and the mountain are the same. Verse #61 from Cold Mountain by Han Shan:
Among a thousand clouds and ten thousand streams,
Here lies an idle man,
In the daytime wandering over green mountains,
At night coming home to sleep by the cliff.
Swiftly the springs and autumns pass,
But my mind is at peace, free from dust or delusion,
How pleasant, to know I need nothing to lean on,
To be still as the waters of the autumn river!
The Chinese poets that wrote about mountains I read like I couldn't get enough. A year before leaving the ways of the city, I found a new anthology of Chinese poetry called SUNFLOWER SPLENDOR. I don't know if it's still in print. It's dated 1975. I just now went to amazon and found they have 2 new copies for $25 ea. My copy is a hardcover. It's my desert island secular book. To my taste, there is no finer poetry in the world than Chinese. The anthology goes from the very beginning, back in Egyptian times by our western beginnings, to about the middle of the 20th century. Of poets I've read, Rilke is the closest of western poets to the artistry of the Chinese poets. I can read Rilke with complete satisfaction as I read Chinese poets with satisfaction. Tu Fu, Tao Chien, Po Chu-yi, Su Tung-po, Li Po leave me in awe. I don't know about them academically, or Chinese poetry academically. I only know them by the enjoyment of reading some verses I don't have to be high to get my mind blown by. I could happily spend a lifetime as a China scholar, the poetry, the art, the archaeology, the history.
Small books of Chinese poetry I'd take on walks into the woods in the first years in the mountains to find a place, a flat rock on or beside the water, where I could spend the day or several hours, inhaling the forest, hearing the birds, hearing the flowing water, seeing birds, crawdads, and native trout after sitting still for an hour. I'd take a bottle of wine or a thermos of hot tea and read, write or get up and walk around, whatever. Go out in the morning and come back when the clouds turn pink. I've only walked the trail int he woods after dark once. It was like the forest in Disney's Snow White. All the trees seemed animated and were watching me. That's not from being stoned either. It's creepy to walk among trees at night, even with a flashlight. That one night, I had to keep my eyes on the dog's tail which I could see a little bit, like the yellow center lines in a dense fog. I'd have been a long time finding the way home without the dog to lead me.
I came to the mountains what American poet James Dickey called a Rural Romantic. My romanticism had to do largely with a Chinese aesthetic appreciation for what we call the natural world. I even identified with the Richard Rogers tune Mountain Greenery. Quite a good jazz number. The Chinese poets gave my early years in the mountains a golden glow fueled by reverence. These poets helped me to see the mountains in a way I could appreciate them best. Without a television, Able to read all I wanted, I romanticized my own Southern Mountains. I don't mean like fantasy thinking. An aesthetic appreciation is what it was. My eyes were more sensitive to what they saw.