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 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 writes a quietistic poem that features nothing more dramatic than a parting, a viewing of landscape, thoughts of a dis-
tant 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.     [source]

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