Sunday, November 8, 2015

chester giles writes

  han shan

there is a flat stone which is han shan

han shan being the greatest poet who ever lived
 turned to cave
 turned to stone
 in ancient china
lost his name, moved to the heavens

the stone is a disk of polished chinese flint
                all from ancient

han shan sits in the palm of my hand and i see his world
written and drawn out and painted and explained in the depths of his surface

i held han shan while i flew in the aeroplane
                      miles above the ground
and watched the clouds from above
  and the sea from through them
like great rolls of blue grey textile
  animated in layers on a great table.

all these things han shan had already explained to me

the couple next to me drank jack daniels and coca cola

the stewardess sold perfume in the aisle

i imagined fucking in the clouds,
  fell in and out of sleep
 drooling on my arm

han shan knew all of this


Yan Hui, Han Shan  Color on silk


  1. Han Shan ("Cold Mountain") was associated with a 9th-century collection of Chinese poems. The area he was associated with, Tiantai, was claimed by Ge Hong, an eminent Taoist, as "the perfect place for practicing the arts of immortality," and it was also the locale of many Buddhist temples. "Lu Ch'iu-yin, Governor of T'ai Prefecture" (probably a fictitious person) wrote a famous preface to the collection (translated here by Gary Snyder):"No one knows what sort of man Han-shan was. There are old people who knew him: they say he was a poor man, a crazy character.... He looked like a tramp. His body and face were old and beat. Yet in every word he breathed was a meaning in line with the subtle principles of things, if only you thought of it deeply. Everything he said had a feeling of Tao in it, profound and arcane secrets. His hat was made of birch bark, his clothes were ragged and worn out, and his shoes were wood.... I met a Buddhist Master named Feng-kan, who said he came from the Kuo-ch'ing Temple of T'ien-t'ai especially to visit me.... I asked him, 'Are there any wise men in your area I could look on as Master?' He replied, 'When you see him you don't recognize him, when you recognize him you don't see him. If you want to see him, you can't rely on appearances. Then you can see him. Han-shan is a Manjusri (one who has attained enlightenment and, in a future incarnation, will become Buddha) hiding at Kuo-sh'ing.' ... A monk named T'ao-ch'iao .... led me to Feng-kan's yard. Then he opened the gate: all we saw was tiger tracks. I asked the monks Tao-ch'iao and Pao-te, 'When Feng-kan was here, what was his job?' The monks said, 'He pounded and hulled rice. At night he sang songs to amuse himself.' Then we went to the kitchen, before the stoves. Two men were facing the fire, laughing loudly. I made a bow. The two shouted Ho! at me. They struck their hands together -- Ha Ha! -- great laughter. They shouted. Then they said, 'Feng-kan -- loose-tounged, loose-tounged. You don't recognize Amitabha, (the Bodhisattva of mercy) why be courteous to us?' The monks gathered round, surprise going through them. 'Why has a big official bowed to a pair of clowns? -- The two men grabbed hands and ran out of the temple. I cried, 'Catch them' -- but they quickly ran away. Han-shan returned to Cold Mountain.... I ordered Tao-ch'iao and the other monks to find out how they had lived, to hunt up the poems written on bamboo, wood, stones, and cliffs ' -- and also to collect those written on the walls of people's houses." Of the 600 poems he is thought to have written, 313 were collected; another 57 were attributed to Han Sshan's friend in the kitchen, Shide but seven of these may have also been authored by Han Shan.

  2. Han Shan is especially loved by the Japanese, who know him as Kanzan, but he was also admired by the Beat poets of the 1950s and beyond. At Gary Snyder's suggestion, Jack Kerouac dedicated his DHARMA BUMS to the Chinese poet and closed the book with an evocation of Han Shan: "Everywhere snowy air and woodsmoke. Finally the snow came, in a whirling shroud from Hozomeen by Canada, it came surling my way sending radiant white heralds through which I saw the angel of light peep, and the wind rose, dark low clouds rushed up as out of a forge, Canada was a sea of meaningless mist; it came in a general fanning attack advertised by the sing in my stovepipe; it rammed it, to absorb my old blue sky view which had been all thoughtful clouds of gold; far, the rum dum dum of Canadian thunder; and to the south another vaster darker storm closing in like a
    pincer; but Hozomeen mountain stood there returning the attack with a surl of silence. And nothing could induce the gay golden horizons far northeast
    where there was no storm, to change places with Desolation. Suddenly a green and rose rainbow shafted right down into Starvation Ridge not three hundred yards away from my door, like a bolt, like a pillar: it came among steaming clouds and orange sun turmoiling.
    What is a rainbow, Lord?
    A hoop
    For the lowly.
    It hooped right into Lightning Creek, rain and snow fell simultaneous, the lake was
    milkwhite a mile below, it was just too crazy. I went outside and suddenly my shadow was ringed by the rainbow as I walked on the hilltop, a lovely-haloed mystery making me want to pray."


Join the conversation! What is your reaction to the post?