Chia Tao

His lyrical work at its purest has the beauty of inhospitable, or remote, mountains; yet when speaking to themes of friendship, Chia Tao’s human empathy is the measure of the peaks.  

Jia Dao

Jia Dao was a Buddhist monk who gave up the monk’s life in around 810 after meeting the poet Han Yu and moving to the capital, Changan… Jia Dao was followed the esthetic principles advocated by Han Yu, which celebrated the didactic and moral effect of literature, and presented the poet as an honest Confucian rectifier of societal wrongs… Although he was not a successful official, he gained a strong reputation as a poet. Here is a famous story about the first meeting of Jia Dao and Han Yu, from the compilation of poetic anecdotes titled Notes of Xiang Su:

When the monk Jia Dao came to Luoyang, monks were forbidden to leave the monastery after noon. Jia Dao wrote a sad poem about this and Han Yu liked the poem so much he helped him get permission to become a layman.

The great Song Dynasty poet and statesman Ouyang Xiu admired Jia Dao’s intense evocations of hardship. Here is Ouyang’s discussion: “Like Meng Jiao, Jia Dao was a poor poet until his death and liked to write lines reflecting his hard life….He writes:

I have white silk in my sideburns
but cannot use it to weave a warm shirt.
Even if one could weave hair, it wouldn’t do him much good.

Jia Dao also has a poem “Morning Hunger” with these lines:

I sit and hear the zither on the western bed:
two or three strings snapping in the cold.

People say that this poem shows that hunger as well as cold is unbearable.”

Chia Tao - Mike O'Connor
Chia Tao writes a quietistic poem that features nothing more dramatic than a parting, a viewing of landscape, thoughts of a distant friend, or a stay overnight. Atmosphere, or mood, in many instances, is what the poem is most about. His lyrical work at its purest has the beauty of inhospitable, or remote, mountains; yet when speaking to themes of friendship, Chia Tao’s human empathy is the measure of the peaks. The edge of sorrow running through his poems was honed in part by his chronic poverty, but it rarely gives way to bitterness or self-pity…

Though the poet does not overtly preach the Dharma, his life and training as a monk naturally influenced his artistic temperament: the poems are spare, technically hard-won (t’ui-ch’iao), and morally serious…

As with the poet monks, Chia Tao’s poems are filled with the imagery of remote. temples and stone chimes, looming peaks and
wind-twisted pines. But with Chia Tao, as with Wang Wei before him, Buddhism is largely internalized; its expression is aesthetic, not philosophical…

His favored poetic form Was the lu-shih, or the regulated form of the eight-line verse…. Tu Fu’s achievement in this form was a standard for poets such as Chia Tao, who came on the scene after the High T’ang period. ChiaTao refined the form and took certain liberties with it, thereby gaining many disciples in the Late T’ang and beyond…

The poet died in humble circumstances. His only known possessions were an ailing donkey and a five-string zither… He attained a high degree of poetic excellence that has earned his poetry grateful readers down to the present.And in the course of his arduous life, he had the consolation of enjoying the friendship of the leading scholars, poets, and sages of his time.

As ChiaTao put it, writing on the occasion of a visit from his friend Yung T’ao:

Not having to be alone
is happiness;
we do not talk
of failure or success.   

After Finishing a Poem

Those two lines cost me three years:
I chant them once, and get two more, of tears.
Friend, if you don’t like them…
I’ll go home, and lie down,
in the ancient mountain autumn.

J.P. Seaton


Seeing Off Spring on the Last Day of April

When April reaches its thirtieth day
your wind and light forsake a poor poet
I don’t want to sleep with you tonight
until the dawn bell you’re still spring

Red Pine


Weeping for the Zen Master Po-Yen

Moss covers his stone bed fresh —
How many springs did the master occupy it?
They sketched to preserve his form practicing the Way,
but burned away the body that sat in meditation.
The pagoda garden closes in snow on the pines,
While the library locks dust in the chinks.
I hate myself for these lines of tears falling —
I am not a man who understands the Void.

 Stephen Owen


Looking for the Hermit and Not Finding Him

Beneath a pine I question a boy.
He says “Master has gone to gather herbs
somewhere on the mountain
but who knows where? The clouds are deep.”

Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping


Seeking But Not Finding the Recluse

Under pines
I ask the boy;

he says:“My Masters gone
to gather herbs.

I only know
he’s on this mountain,

but the clouds are too deep
to know Where.”

Mike O’Connor


Overnight at a Mountain Temple<//h2>

Flock of peaks hunched up
and colored cold.  The path forks
here, toward the temple.
A falling star flares behind bare trees,
and the moon breasts the current of the clouds.
Few men come; to the very top..
one tall pine won’t hold a flock of cranes.
One monk here, at eighty,
has never heard tell
of the “world” down below.

J.P. Seaton


Abode of the Unplanned Effect

The grass-covered path
is secluded and still,
A closed door faces
the Chungnan Mountains

In the evening the air’s chilly
but the light rain stops,
At dawn, far off,
a few cicadas start

Leaves fall
where no green earth remains
a person at his ease
wears a plain robe

With simplicity and plainness
his original nature still,
what need to practice
“calming of the heart”

Mike O’Connor


Late in the Day, Gazing Out from a River Pavilion

Water to the horizon
veils the base of clouds;
mountain mist
blurs the far village.

Returning to nest, birds
make tracks in the sand;
passing on the river, a boat
leaves no trace on the waves.

I gaze at the water
and know its gentle nature;
watch the mountains
until my spirit tires.

Though not yet ready
to leave off musing,
dusk falls,
and I return by horse.

Mike O’Connor


The Last Night of the Third Month

Third month, the thirtieth day:
the season takes leave of a hard-working poet.
You and I must not sleep tonight-
till we hear the bells of dawn, it is still spring!

Burton Watson


The Shih Ching , usually translated as either The Book of Songs or the Classic of Poetry, is the first great collection of Chinese poetry. Tradition says that it was edited into its present form by the Sage of Sages, Confucius himself. In fact the book was assembled before, during, and after the life of Confucius. Its more than three hundred poems include fragments of works as old as the Shang Dynasty (traditional; dates 1766-1154 BCE) as well as “contemporary” poems from the Chou feudal states written or spoken by both aristocratic court figures and just plain “folks”. A great deal has been said about the origin of many, if not the majority of the poems as oral “folk” art, but it is clear from the artistry of the written language in which they have been handed down that, like the scribes who improved upon the originally oral poetry attributed to “Homer” in the West to create the Iliad and the Odyssey, the people who converted Chou folk songs and court verses into poetry in written Chinese characters clearly thought of themselves as (and were) artists. So the characters used to render simple and direct lyrical utterances of the illiterate peasant folk often honor them with carefully chosen written vocabulary: the heart and soul of folk art remains clearly present, but literary subtleties are introduced. The scribes who created the Shih Ching were poets, not tape recorders. They chose the best of what existed, and they honored it with their own art.

In its present form, the Shih Ching consists of three major sections, the Kuo Feng, or Odes of the States, comprising 160 of the 300 are generally but not always folk songs. The Ya (Elegant Verses) subdivided with no obvious criteria into greater and lesser, include poems 161-265, and the Sung or Temple Odes high ritual songs and bits of dynastic myth, include poems 266-305. The present selection is comes, all but a single longer poem on drinking and its positive and negative consequences from the “Lesser Elegants”, all come from the Kuo Feng Sections.

Knowledge of the Shih Ching poems was a necessity of diplomatic practice around the time of Confucius, when it was a common practice to deliver or at least support the delivery of diplomatic messages among the feudal domains (the “States or Guo of the Guo Feng) by oral presentation of relevant lines from the Classic. From the Han on many of the poems where imbued with very specific allegorical interpretations, but it is clear that later poets, who memorized the book word for word, used it as allusive material in their own poems at least as often for its plain “folk” messages as for its orthodoxly approved allegorical ones.