Yang Wan-li

Don’t read books…
It’s so much better
to close your eyes sxt in your study
lower the curtains, sweep the floor,
burn incense.
take a walk when you feel energetic,
and when you’re tired go to sleep.

Yang Wan-li – Jonathan Chaves


Yang Wan-li – David Hinton
Yang Wan-li ….was interested in poetry primarily as a form of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist practice, and indeed he
had a more thoroughly Ch’an conception of poetry than any other poet in the tradition.
Like an adept practicing directly under Ch’an masters, Yang studied the poetic masters of the past assiduously, trying to match his poetic insights to theirs. Then finally, when he was fifty, this “practice” led to a moment of sudden enlightenment. He began working spontaneously in his own style from immediate experience, and tzu-jan’s ten thousand things seemed to present themselves to him in poems written efortlessly. In the three decades after his enlightenment, Yang wrote with the same spontaneity as Lu Yu did during his two decades of retirement producing no fewer than 3,500 poems…

Yang Wan-li’s poetic enlightenment seems to have been part of a fundamental Ch’an awakening that is reflected in his poems. A typical Yang poem attends to the passing moments of immediate experience with a resounding clarity and this attention usually leads to a moment of sudden enlightenment: a startling image or turn of thought, a surprising imaginative gesture, a twist of humor. And he could make poems out of nothing more than a crystalline attention to things themselves. Like Mei Yao-ch’en and Lu Yu,Yang o&en attends to the most mundane aspects of life, and he does this in the most profound way-empty mind completely occupied with nothing special: a fly, for instance, sunning on a Windowsill.

David Hinton
Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008

Listening to the Rain

A year ago my boat, homeward bound,
moored at Yen-ling –
I was kept awake all night by the rain
beating against the sails.
Last night the rain fell on the thatched roof
of my house.
I dreamed of the sound of rain
beating against the sails.

Jonathan Chaves

Rising Early

Chrysanthemums in bloom-as gaunt as ever;
peonies, leaves falling off; seem completely withered.
A locust, frozen nearly to death,
clings desperately to a cold branch.

Jonathan Chaves

Cold Sparrows

Hundreds of cold sparrows dive into the empty courtyard,
cluster on plum branches and speak of sun after rain at dusk.
They choose to gather en masse and kill me with noise.
Suddenly startled, they disperse. Then, soundlessness.

Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

On a Portrait of Myself

The pure wind makes me chant poems.
The bright moon urges me to drink.
Intoxicated, I fall among the flowers,
heaven my blanket, earth my pillow.

Jonathan Chaves