Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Singing for the Squeal: I Hear My Gate Slam - Chinese Poets on Meeting and Parting

I ran across a book in the library last week from Pressed Wafer entitled I Hear My Gate Slam: Chinese Poets Meeting and Parting. Though the title is not all that accurate a representation of the content and a tad unwieldy to boot, this is an excellent collection of work, translated by Taylor Stoehr, which I'd highly recommend to any reader with a predilection for Eastern verse.

Though there are, indeed, quite a few poems on meeting and parting, as the subtitle suggests, there are also others with more general themes. The poets represented here are ones you would expect: Wang Wei, Tu Fu, Li Po. Happily, too, we find Han Shan and Po Chü-I, among others. Taylor Stoehr has done a very fine job, indeed, in translating these disparate poets, sticking with a clear, minimalist approach without sacrificing any of subtly and resonance for which early Chinese poetry is renowned. In addition, the text is accompanied by ink drawings by the multi-talented Mr. Stoehr, as well as a cover painting of his own creation. Here's a selection to tempt you to head for the library, bookstore etc. for a more comprehensive look.

In the Mountains

You want to know why I live in here on the mountain?
Ha! What can I say? Is this where I am?

Peach blossoms reflected in the water –
in which green world do they bloom?

Li Po

I Wait Here Alone

Two white gulls glide to and fro.
High above them a hawk hovers.

Blind to the shadow flitting below,
they ride the wind along the river.

Morning dew drenches the grass.
The spider's web stretches wide.

The world attends to its business
of slaughter. I wait here alone.
Tu Fu

The Demon Poetry

I strive to pass through the Empty Gate
and clear my head of all its idle song,

but the Demon Party lies in wait:
a breeze, a moonbeam – I'm humming along.

Po Chü-i

Ask Yang Qiong

The ancients sang because their hearts were full,
today people sing just for the squeal.

If you want to know why, don't ask me,
go ask Yang Quong the singsong girl.
Po Chü-i

Too Many Words

Talking about food doesn't fill you up,
talking about clothes won't keep you warm.

What your belly wants is rice
and a thick coat is nice in a storm.

Sometimes words just confuse things
and make the Buddha hard to find.

While your talking the Buddha sits
fat and warm inside your mind.

Han Shan

Life in a Bowl

Man lives in a circle of dust
like a beetle in a bowl,

busy going round and round
never getting anywhere.

Enlightenment never comes
to those who scabble in the dirt.

Days flow by like a rushing river,
suddenly we find ourselves old.
Han Shan

Puzzling Things Out

Is my body real or just an illusion?
Who is it who asks such a question?

See how one puzzle leads to another!
I sit on the mountainside lost in wonder

till the green grass grows up between my toes
and the red dust settles on my head.

Country folk come to me with wine and fruit
pious offerings set out for the dead.

Han Shan

Cold Mountain's Poems

Here are Cold Mountain's poems,
better medicine than pills or sutras.

Copy out your favorite
and pin it to the wall.
Han Shan


Hibiscus flowering twig and tip,
the whole mountainside aflame.

By the stream a hut, silent and empty,
and petals falling as fast as they bloom

Wang Wei

One editorial note: for those unfamiliar with the work of Han Shan, his name literally means "cold mountain" and so the poem himself is often called "Cold Mountain" and so he is referring to himself in the above poem, "Cold Mountain's Poems."

That's just a taste of this fine volume of work and belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in Chinese poetry. Mr Stoeher's are both carefully measured and natural, no mean feat. Since this Pressed Wafer is a relatively small press, I'd urge you to get a copy now if this kind of work is your cup of meat. It's liable to go out of print fast.

I hope to be offering a few more poems from this collection in a future post.

Finally, today is the anniversary of the birthday of B. J. Wilson, the fine, talented, underrated drummer for the band Procol Harum. In order to address this neglect and in his memory, enjoy the following.

B. J. Wilson



John Grochalski said...

seems like a great collection. currently making my way through the Red Pine translated "Poems of the Masters" so this volume will be a nice addition to the depth already given to me in that.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ah, that's one I haven't gotten to yet myself. Have to check it out at the library. I know we have it cause I bought it ...