Hsieh Ling-yun

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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.

[tooltip content= “The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry (New Directions, 2003)”] [source][/tooltip]

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.

Xie’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