Thursday, August 4, 2016

visiting Daitianshan’s Daoist master but not finding him

visiting Daitianshan’s Daoist master but not finding him

barking dogs heard amid the sound of water;
peach blossoms are heavy-laden with dew—
deep in the trees, waiting for a glimpse of deer;
a mountain creek, no noon bell can be heard—
the wild bamboo splits a blue haze;
swift springs divide the jade peaks—
he’s absent, & no one knows where he’s gone:
fretful, I trust to two or three pines

Jack Hayes
© 2016
Li Bai:
făng dàitianshān dàoshi bùyù

Notes: There's a whole genre of poems from Classical Chinese literature devoted to visiting a hermit, often but not always a Daoist master, who is absent from his lodgings. Translator Arthur Cooper in his Li Po and Tu Fu volume discussed how the absent master is “teaching” through his very absence—to observe what is present, not to focus on what one is “looking for.” Cooper connects this with Wittgenstein’s dictum “Don’t think: look!” but it’s also very much a part of Daoist & Chan Buddhist thought.

“visiting Daitianshan’s Daoist master but not finding him” is thought to be one of Li Bai’s earliest poems. David Hinton dates it to 701 CE.

As always, many thanks to Sheila Graham-Smith for her help & insights. She pointed out that the pines the poet “trusts to” or “relies on” are symbols of both eternity & steadfastness.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:

萬壑松風 (Wind in Pines Among a Myriad Valleys): Li Tang; 1124. Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk.
Public domain.

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