Ching An

I’m ashamed I’ve yet to realize my monk’s oath:
the fault’s in this load of blue green hills I carry,
many tens of thousands strong.

Ching An
Wang K’ai-yun, a lay friend who was arguably the finest classical poet of the late Ch’ing, favorably compared Ching An’s work to that of the legendary wild-man monk Hanshan. It is a surprising comparison, considering the fact that Ching An was a successful abbot and a recognized leader in the relations between the monastic community and the central government, but it is a particularly apt one. Like Hanshan’s poems, Ching An’s are sharply personal and even apparently iconoclastic. Ching An was also compared by contemporaries to the famous late T’ang Buddhist poet Chia Tao (779-843), a selection of whose poems are translated on this website.
Ching An – J.P. Seaton
…Yuan Mei and the monk Ching An, are certainly among the best of all the classical Chinese poetic tradition. Both are outstanding for their mastery of classical forms, and their willingness to use those forms to record the realities of their lives in a language that made classical poetry available to ordinary people. Both poets, a century apart, realized that the millions of readers of popular fiction were a potential audience, and so, unlike the majority of “classical” poets of the period, both refused merely to imitate the great poetry of “the ancient”, choosing rather to put classical techniques at the service of vernacular language, in order to reach the people, always the intended audience for wen.

Dusk of Autumn: Writing What My Heart Embraces

I am the orphan cloud:
no trace left behind.

Come South three times now
to listen to the frosty bell.
When men see geese flying
they think of letters home.

Even the mountains grieve at the Fall:
they’re Wearing a sickly face.

But fine phrases are there too
to be plucked from the sad heart of Autumn,
and many an ancient poet ran into one on the road.

I’m ashamed I’ve yet to realize
my monk’s oath:

the fault’s in this load of blue green hills I carry
many tens of thousands strong.

J.P. Seaton


To Show You All, On the First Morning of the Year

A thousand thousand Worlds,
a single breath,
one turn of the Great Potter`s Wheel.
The withered tree blossoms

in a Spring beyond illusion.
The firecrackers bring me back:

the laugh’s on me.
This year’s man
is last year’s man.

J.P. Seaton


Night Sitting

The hermit doesn’t sleep at night:
in love with the blue of the vacant moon
The cool of he breeze
that rustles the trees
rustles him too.

J.P. Seaton


Returning Clouds

Misty trees hide in crinkled hills’ blue green
The man of the Way’s stayed long
at this cottage in the bamboo grove.
White clouds too know the flavor
of this mountain life;they haven’t waited for the Vesper Bell
to come on home again.

J.P. Seaton


Moored at Maple Bridge

Frost white across the river
waters reaching toward the sky
All I’d hoped for’s lost
in Autumn’s darkening.
I cannot sleep, a man
adrift, a thousand miles
alone, among the reed flowers:
but the moonlight fills the boat.

J.P. Seaton

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.