Po Chu-I

This mid-May morning, such little sun now for several days. Weather people say the ocean is growing warmer. I would think the land would do likewise, but no, we have cool, heavy fog breathing over us all day. And when the fog might lift for an hour or two, some afternoon days, it chills up a wind that blows up my canyon, so that I must go in and put on an extra layer of clothing. It is the same old game, putting things on and taking them off, adjusting all day long to become comfortable.

In other parts of the world, a one-time clothing of one’s self in the morning is enough to last all day, and often into the night. But here the air is usually arid, holding little moisture or heat, so that what is warm quickly becomes cool, or just the opposite may happen–the cool becoming warm.

I’m indoors today, reading commentary on ancient Chinese poetry, Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape. It is easy to read the words of these ancients without understanding their point of view, their understanding of life and the universe. I find myself imposing my own 21st century thought processes on people who lived thousands of years ago in places quite remote from me. The work of thoughtful translators makes the literal sense of these old poems intelligible. The tangible realm that we all experience seems ever-present, but the mind within of the people who wrote these poems is not so discernible; at least, not to a novitiate like me.

Now that I have read some of Hinton’s book I see that I must go back and read again what I have already glossed over so quickly in his collection of classical Chinese poetry. Here’s a poem from Po Chu-I:

After Lunch

After lunch–one short nap;
On waking up–two cups of tea.
Raising my head, I see the sun’s light
Once again slanting to the southwest.
Those who are happy regret the shortness of the day;
Those who are sad tire of the year’s sloth.
But those whose hearts are devoid of joy or sadness
Just go on living, regardless of ’short’ or ’long’.

I notice that he doesn’t say whether he is joyful or sad. If he has taken tea and slept in the middle of the day, I would think borders more on being sad than on being joyful. Two cups of tea today, not just one, because the ritual of one is not enough to lift the spirit, and then, after two a nap is still required. How the day must seem to him to be dragging on. This is the kind of day he stops and writes a poem, to note his observation. On a day of joyfulness perhaps the day, and the poem, would look different.

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