Hsieh Ling-yun

Hsieh Ling-yun ( 385-433) - J.P. Seaton

Hsieh Ling-yun (385-433) was a member of an aristocratic family that survived the Han-to-T’ang dark ages almost unscathed. His poetry is characterized by careful word choice. Its characters and phrases are packed with meaning from the inside (etymologically) to the outside (allusions and textual reference). These meaning-packed lines sometimes show a whiff of aristocratic arrogance (the rich often have such bad manners!), but they betray a hint or two of wistful, even rueful, self-knowledge as well. On the basis of his literary work, he was a minor official poet, only to die in a court mutiny..

about Hsieh Ling-yun - David Hinton
During the last decade of his life, living as a recluse high in the mountains of southeast China, Hsieh Ling-yün initiated a tradition of “rivers-and-mountains” (shan-shui) poetry that stretches across millennia in China and beyond, a tradition that represents the earliest and most extensive literary engagement with wilderness in human history. Hsieh’s work, all but unknown in the West, chronicles nothing less than the aesthetic and spiritual discovery of wilderness, reading like dispatches reporting back to the human world. These poems were extremely popular in Hsieh’s own time, and established him as one of the most innovative and influential poets in the history of Chinese poetry, as well as a precursor to Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism,

Like China’s grand landscape paintings, Hsieh’s poetry invests realistic descriptions of landscape with the philosophy of Taoism and Buddhism, shaping them into forms of enlightenment. As such, Hsieh’s work presents undeniable difficulties for the reader. It is an austere poetry, nearly devoid of the human stories and poetic strategies that normally make poems compelling. Instead, with their grandiose language, headlong movement and shifting perspective, Hsieh’s poems capture the day-to-day development of the mirror-still mind that sees its truest self in the vast dimensions of mountain wilderness.

“The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry (New Directions, 2003)”

about Hsieh Ling-yun - Wendy Swartz
Lingyun, a scion of an illustrious aristocratic clan of the Six Dynasties, led
life of privilege and leisure…. While he was by no means the first poet to use images of mountains and waters or to employ as a way to express his ideas and sentiments, he unequivocally established
“mountains and waters” as a poetic subject in its own right. …Thee extensive exposition of the natural scene in Xie’s works marks the birth of landscape poetry as a genre. In contrast to philosophical poetry, in which natural imagery serves predominantly as metaphors for ideas or the literal background for the figures or events in the poem, Xie’s landscape poetry contains elaborate descriptions of nature in which_ mountains and Waters become objects of the aesthetic gaze. To be sure, Xie’s landscape poems are based on physical and intimate contact with the subject at hand. He toured the magnificent landscapes of Zhejiang with admirable enthusiasm, even designing a type of Wooden clog for hiking up and down mountains…

Mountains and waters make ideal vehicles for the manifestation (or contemplation) of the Dao, or Way. Indeed, Xie’s landscape poems almost invariably conclude with some kind of philosophical meditation. Hence, Lao-Zhuang philosophy did not in fact retreat into the background but masqueraded itself in the guise of mountains and waters, as Wang has put it.

Xi’s landscape poems are laden with artfully crafted lines, strictly parallel couplets, obscure words, and literary allusions. Their erudition and denseness make them difficult to read in the original and unfortunate to read in translation. Yet there are great rewards for working through his verse: beautiful representations of natural landscapes that truly enliven his subject and profound insights into nature’s workings and their correlation to man.

Dwelling in the Mountains #18

Slipping from gardens to fields
and from fields on toward lakes,

I float and drift on and on along
rivers to realms of distant water,

sage pools in mountain streams deepening into recluse dark
and hazy confusions of wild rice clearing away along islands.

Fragrant springwater swells into springtime cascades here,
and chilled waves quicken amid autumn’s passing clarity.

Wind churning up lakewater around islands full of orchids,
sunlight pours through pepper trees and on across the road,

and soaring lazily over the mid-stream island,
the pavillion there soaked in its luster, the moon in water is a perfect joy.

Lingering out shadows, mornings infuse things with clarity,
and suffusing the air, fragrant scents settle into evenings

here, where thinking of loved ones lost to me forever now,
I can look forward to the evanescent visits of cloud guests.

David Hinton

Dwelling in the Mountains #6

Here where I live,
lakes on the left,

rivers on the right,
you leave islands, follow shores back

to mountains out front, ridges behind.
Looming east and toppling aside west,

they harbor ebb and flow of breath,
arch across and snake beyond, devious

churning and roiling into distances,
clifftop ridgelines hewn flat and true.

David Hinton


Passing My Estate at Shih-ning

Bobbed haired, irksome child, I longed to grow Upright,
and find fame for it
But then I found things of this world,
and they held me.
Only yesterday, or it seems so, I let such
honorable ambition go
two dozen years, in fact, the then to now.

Blackened, reamed, worn as a knight would
never be, my nature sullied , I’d betrayed,
forgotten, even the bright broad land itself.
Worn, wasted, wearied I’m shamed now
by anything upright and firm
But stupidity and sickness may yet
be my salvation: these have brought me here again
to the very bosom of Silence.
I am empowered by the emblem of a Magistrate
to rule “The Blue Sea” but first I’ll play King
of my own old hills a while.
Hiking the high places, and the low,
crossing, tracing a winding stream to its source.
Here are cliffs, crags and peaks, and
ranks of ridges, ranges,
like rock islets and bits of sand bar in sea surge.
White clouds wrap dark boulders.
Green bamboo writhe in shamanesses dances by the stream.

I’ll rethatch the roof with the view
of the river’s twistings, and raise up
a tower for viewing the peaks.
Then I’ll wave farewell to my village folk:
A three year term, then I’ll return
plant me grave yard evergreens, and
coffin wood trees. These
are my last wishes.

J.P. Seaton


Climbing the Lakeside Tower

A submerged dragon entices with mysterious charms,
The flying goose echoes its far-off cries.
Reaching toward the sky, I am humbled by the floater
in the clouds,
Resting by the river, I am shamed by the dweller in the
My stupidity made me unfit to advance in virtue,
My weakness made me unable to retire to the plow.
In pursuing a salary, I came to this ocean frontier,”
Now ill, I lie facing the empty forest.
With quilt and pillow, I was blind to the season’s signs,
I raised my curtain, and peered out for a while.
I tilt my ears to listen to the billowing waves,
I lift my eyes to gaze at the steep mountains.
Early spring transforms the lingering winds,
New sunlight transfigures the shadows of old.
The pond’s banks grow spring grasses,
And garden willows have transformed the singing birds.
So dense!

Wendy Swartz


Written to Swap, at Tung-yang Creek


Pretty! Some man’s wife, for sure,
washing those so white feet in the stream.
And the moon, bright among the clouds:
far, so far away; just out of reach.

Pretty! He’s some girl’s husband!”
Come on a white skiff adrift on the stream.
Pray, what be thy purpose here,
as the clouds slip over the moon?

J.P. Seaton


From South Hill to North Hill Passing

Dawn: off from the south cliff..
Sundown: rest on the north peak.
Boat left ashore, to pore into distant islands.
Staff laid aside, to lean on a thick pine.
Sidepaths lean and long.
Round islets bright and clear.
Looking down: tips of tall trees.
Harkening above: water rushes from large valleys.
A crisscross rock splits the stream.
A dense forest blocks all paths.
Sky thaws: thundering rains: how about them?
Vegetation rises up in profusion.
First bamboo-shoots wrapped in green sheaths.
New reeds hold purple fluffs.
Seagulls sport on spring shores.
Pheasants play in mild winds.
Cherish Transformation: mind will be unbound.
Embrace things: love will deepen.
One need not regret that men of past are distant.
Sad it is to find no one of like mind.
To roam alone is not emotional relief:
Appreciation now abandoned-cosmic scheme: who knows

Wai-lim Yip

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.