i am reading some books of poetry, gradually learning how to read poems as part of my quest to learn to write them. here's a fragment from a poem by a chinese writer, probably from around 1200 years ago
So Han-Shan writes you these words,
Those words which no one will believe.
Honey is sweet; Men love the taste.
Medicine is bitter and hard to swallow.
What soothes the feelings brings contentment,
What opposes the will calls forth anger.
Yet I ask you to look at the wooden puppets,
Worn out by their moment of play on stage!
stumbling across this which struck me somehow, i googled the author and discovered that this Han-Shan fellow was beloved by the beat poets. i re read the poem-fragment and i could suddenly easily see someone putting the book down and deciding to burn in rage and spew bitter medicine rather than end up a discarded worn puppet. it seems to unmask the quest for contentment as the quest for a gentle death.
but the immediately preceeding stanza the same Han-Shan says
As for me, I delight in the everyday Way,
Among mist-wrapped vines and rocky caves.
Here in the wilderness I am completely free,
With my friends, the white clouds, idling forever.
There are roads, but they do not reach the world;
Since I am mindless, who can rouse my thoughts?
On a bed of stone I sit, alone in the night,
While the round moon climbs up Cold Mountain.
i don't know enough about the beat poets to say anything about them, but i am totally struck at this point at how this illuminates my way of reading. i am mining the text. as i read the stanza (and the 6 before it) about mindless bed of stone cold mountain my brain is reading "yada yada yada yada", and then i hit the stanza about puppets and suddenly i wake up. and because i just woke up i miss all the context.
this is also exactly how i tend to read the bible. i sort of yada yada over the parts which don't seem to reflect beauty or reality, and then jump up in amazement at a line, or a word. i've always thought this was a good thing, but today i am wondering if maybe i should listen to Han Shan as he critiques my way of reading, my way of looking for honey, looking for contentment, flying over the difficult parts, looking for the easy path to Cold Mountain.
Climbing up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, the mist-blurred grass.
The moss is slippery, though there's been no rain
The pine sings, but there's no wind.
Who can leap the world's ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?
( scroll image from the dai bosatsu zendo store)