Searching Nanxi for the Reclusive Changshan Taoist, 尋南溪常山道人隱居

Searching Southern Creek (Nanxi) for the Taoist priest
Along the way, I find a footprint in the moss
A while cloud lies low upon the lake
Spring grass grows freely at the door
A heavy rain has the color of the pine trees
A mountain brook gushes from its source
And, mingling with its flowers is a truth
I have forgotten

Alternate title, Looking for the Taoist monk Chang of the Southern stream.

In Discovering a Truth, I have forgotten the Words

“Poems cannot convey the meaning of words accurately, and words cannot accurately convey thoughts.” This is the subtext of the ancient The Classic of Changes, (the I Ching). A fundamental tenet of Daoism also holds that people cannot express and access the Way (Dao) by language. And if Zhuangzi is correct, “then the purpose of the words is to express an idea, and if we get the idea we can forget the words”.

Liu Changqing (劉長卿 709–785) served the Emperor Dezong as governor of Suizhou Province.

Liu captures the essence of nature and the spirit of the Dao in his beautifully expressive mood piece of eight lines with five characters per line. The name of the monk he seeks and the place he goes to are of no substance.

A footprint in the moss marks the way, then Liu discovers that he needs nothing more than the this simple path beset by a heavy rain that obscures the forest. For the truth mingles with the flowers alongside the rushing mountain brook.

Chinese

尋南溪常山道人隱居
一路經行處,
莓苔見履痕,
白雲依靜渚,
春草閉閒門。
過雨看松色,
隨山到水源,
溪花與禪意,
相對亦忘言

Pinyin

Xún nán xī cháng shān dàoren yǐnjū

Yī lùshàng jīngguò dì dìfāng, qīngtái xiǎodào liú xià xié hén.
Báiyún yīwēi ānjìng shāzhōu, chūncǎo huánrào dào yuàn xián mén.
Xīn yǔ guòhòu sōng sè qīngcuì, xúnzhe shānlù lái dào shuǐyuán.


Seeing Meng Haoran off to Guangling – Li Bai 李 白

“You left me, old friend of the West, at the Yellow Crane Tower,
In Spring, going to Yangzhou, in a cloud of flowers;
Your lonely sail, a speck against blue sky, disappearing
Until now I only see the Yangtze and the sky.”

yellow crane tower, wuhan, china
yellow crane tower, wuhan, china

In the third lunar month of the New Year (middle March by modern calendars), Meng Haoran took leave of his friend Li Bai to make a 400 mile journey down the Yangtze(長江, chángjiāng) to Guangling and Yangzhou.

The place of their parting was the Yellow Crane Tower (黃鶴樓, Huánghè Lóu) in Wuhan, Hubei Province. It is a sacred site of Daoism, considered to be one of the four great towers in China. The symmetrical eaves on each floor are said to resemble a yellow crane soaring in the sky and clouds, reflecting immortality and wisdom.

Meng Haoran was born in 689 in Xiangyang, far western Hubei. Li Bai, ten years junior to the older Meng, was born in Suyab, on the Silk Road. For this tenuous reason, Li Bai refers to Meng as his old friend of the West (西 Xi). In the second line of the poem, Li Bai uses a metaphor 煙花 (flower and mist, together “fireworks”)* to describe the peach and cherry trees then in full blossom. Flower (花, Huā) has many symbolic meanings, also conveying a sense of magnificence and splendor.

The poem may date to the years 730-733, when Meng Haoran failed the imperial examinations for a second time and took to traveling to assuage his disappointment.

Li Bai wrote a second homage to his friend Meng Haoran.

Chinese Characters

送孟浩然之廣陵

故人西辭黃鶴樓
煙花三月下揚州
孤帆遠影碧空盡
惟見長江天際流

Pinyin

Sòng mènghàorán zhī guǎnglíng

gùrén xī cí huáng hè lóu
yānhuā sān yuè xià yángzhōu
gū fān yuǎn yǐng bìkōng jǐn
wéi jiàn chángjiāng tiānjì liú

Notes

*The exact date of the invention of fireworks is unknown. Therefore, this may be only a combination of the characters for flower and cloud, Anyone who has walked along a path of cherry trees in full blossom will understand splendor and the airy cloud-like feeling.
Yangtze River
Yangtze River

Reading Laozi 读老子 – Bai Juyi

On Reading Laozi

He who speaks, does not know,
He who knows, does not talk.
Why then, did the way the old man knows,
Take five thousand words?

Laozi

Tongue in cheek, Bai Juyi identifies Laozi by name in the title, literally, Old Master, and as the old man ( 老君 , Laojun) in line three.

Laozi, literally “Old Master”, also Lao Tzu and Lao-Tze, was an ancient Chinese philosopher (6th or 4th century BC, as scholars disagree), founder of Taoism, the Way (道, Dào) and author of the Tao Te Ching, a text of some 5,000 Chinese characters in 81 chapters.

Because the fifty-sixth chapter of the Tao Te Ching says that “the knower does not speak, the speaker does not know”, so Bai Juyi presents the paradox question, if the old man knows why so many words? *

读老子

言者不如知者默
此语吾闻于老君
若道老君是知者
缘何自著五千文


Dú lǎozi

Yán zhě bùrú zhì zhě mò
cǐ yǔ wú wén yú lǎo jūn
ruò dào lǎo jūn shì zhì zhě
yuánhé zì zhe wǔqiān wén

* Tao Te Ching, Chapter 56
Those who know talk not,
Those who talk know not.
Blockading its exchanges,
Confining its ideals,
Moderating its ingenuity,
Unraveling its complexity,
Softening its intensity,
Is but merging into its ubiquity,
That is the intricacy of ubiquity…