The poems reveal a thorough knowledge of Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist sources as well as of poetry and literature.
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Han-shan never professes a particular creed but freely borrows from all the traditions. Indeed he was a consistent critic of rituals and monks.
In one poem he speaks of encountering Taoist monks who praise elixirs and await a crane or fish at death and calls them "fools You are not really hermits you just call yourselves recluses they would never wear silk headdress they prefer a hemp bandana It is not that Han-shan is a cynic with no point of view, for everywhere his poems reflect the wisdom of Taoist and Buddhist thought. In an early poem, Han-shan had described himself as a "poor clerk" and his escape and mountain isolation meant that his former poverty became hermit simplicity.
At first he lived in a cave "my cave is on a distant ridge" , and amenities were few:. I returned to the edge of a forest and chose the life of a farmer forthright in my dealings no flattery in my speech But after the personal ignominy of the An Lu-shan Rebellion, not all was contentment for Han-shan.
The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain
He mentions that his wife "disdained" him, probably referring to the difficult poverty after their reclusion. He never mentions her again, nor his son -- only his aloneness and seclusion. One early poem offers a glimpse of his bleakest years. A trifle poor in the past today I am completely poor whatever I do does not work out every road is a treadmill my legs quake in the mud my stomach aches on festival days Han-shan mentions how dew soaks his thatched eaves and that the sill of his only window, through which moonlight enters, is made of old crockery -- obvious signs of poverty. But for all that, he asserts, "Even if I had a heap of gold, I would rather be poor in the woods.
When hermits hide from society most retire to the hills where green vines veil the slopes and jade streams echo unbroken where happiness reigns and contentment lasts where pure white lotus minds are not stained by the muddy world. In his encounters, he notes, people call him crazy, ugly, unkempt, and unintelligible. Han-shan did not care. People could not begin to understand, he reflects. He was perpetually "hard in pursuit of meeting a buddha," but it probably would not happen.
The man in the clouds and cliffs with one thin robe in autumn he lets the leaves fall in spring he lets the trees bloom he sleeps through the Three Realms free of concerns with moonlight and wind for his home. Cold Mountain is nothing but clouds secluded and free of dust a hermit owns a cushion of straw the moon is his lone lamp his bed of stone overlooks a pool his neighbors are tigers and deer preferring the joys of solitude he remains as a man beyond form.
Relaxing below Cold Cliff the surprises are very special taking a basket to gather wild plants bringing it back loaded with fruit spreading fresh grass for a simple meal nibbling on magic mushrooms rinsing my ladle and bowl in a pool making a stew from scraps sitting in sunshine wrapped in a robe reading the poems of the ancients. Cold Mountain has a dwelling with no partitions inside six doors open left and right from the hall he sees blue sky wherever he looks the house is bare the east wall greets the west wall nothing, really, between them no need for anybody's care he makes a small fire when cold comes cooks plants when he gets hungry he is not like the old farmer who enlarges his fields and outbuildings Legendary for his clarity, directness, and lack of pretension, the eight-century hermit-poet Cold Mountain Han Shan is a major figure in the history of Chinese literature and has been a profound influence on writers and readers worldwide.
The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain Translated by Red Pine
A mountain man lives under thatch before his gate carts and horses are rare the forest is quiet but partial to birds the streams are wide and home to fish with his son he picks wild fruit with his wife he hoes between rocks what does he have at home a shelf full of nothing but books. The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain.
Cold Mountain Han Shan. B storied cliffs were the fortune I cast bird trails beyond human tracks what surrounds my yard white clouds nesting dark rocks I've lived here quite a few years and always seen the spring-water change tell those people with tripods and bells empty names are no damn good
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