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#1692 - Thursday, January 29, 2004 - Editor: Jerry

This issue features Red Pine

Porter (Red Pine) has become one of the foremost Chinese poetry and essay translators in the world.  

He has captivated lovers of Chinese poetry, in particular, with his
precise yet accessible translations of ancient texts written centuries
ago by wanderers, exiles and monks. More than translations, Porter's
books evoke a way of life that he has experienced firsthand as a
Buddhist monk and recluse in Taiwan.
Red Pine's latest project is the translation of "Poems of the Masters"
(Copper Canyon Press, $18), an anthology of verse from the T'ang and
Sung Dynasties, which ruled China from 960 to 1278 A.D. in the Golden
Age of Chinese poetry. ...

His experiences have given him a rare understanding. "When you have
somebody that lives their work, I think that seeps through the lines,"
said Jim Harrison, a Montana novelist and the screenwriter behind the
film "Legends of the Fall," who practices Buddhism. "There's an
emotional credibility to the work."  

"It's not like a professor with a grant," he said. "It's his life."  

Porter's quiet lifestyle in Port Townsend seems at odds with his
gregarious personality. But in China, he says, being a recluse isn't
the same as being antisocial.
In Chinese, the term for "poetry" — "shih" or "chih" — actually means
"words from the heart," Porter explains. His translations and detailed
footnotes about the authors have been described by critics as uncannily
Porter met more than 100 hermits in the 1980s while researching his
travel book "Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits" (Mercury
House, $14.95), which helped revive interest in that subculture. He
says seclusion is a necessary rite of passage for any Buddhist master,
akin to earning a Ph.D. in the West.   "

They're there to gain the insights that will filter down the hills to
the government, the leaders of society," Porter said.  

These have been excerpts from the article:    

The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain  

Read from this book at Amazon:  

Customer Review #3: Red Pine grasps Cold Mountain.  

Twelve hundred years ago, Chinese recluse-poet Han Shan ("Cold
Mountain") "fled to the woods to dwell and gaze in freedom" (poem 26),
where he also wrote the 307 poems collected here "on trees and rocks
and walls" (p. 9) around the cave where he lived. In 1974, while living
in a Taipei monastery as a Buddhist monk, Bill Porter (a.k.a. "Red
Pine") began translating Cold Mountains poems. Red Pine breathes new
life into Cold Mountain:  

"I enjoy the simple life
between dark vines and mountain caves
the wilderness has room to roam
with white clouds for companions
there's a road but not to town."  

It is easy to appreciate Cold Mountains verse
not only for its "spiritual honesty, poignancy, and humor" (p. 15), as
Red Pine observes, but also for its rich, natural imagery. White clouds
cling to dark rocks (poem 1), and old pines cling to crags (poem 256).
Cicadas sing (poem 300). Yellow leaves fall (poem 300).  

"My mind is like the autumn moon
clear and bright in a pool of jade"  

In a recent interview, Red Pine compares Chinese hermits to "a mountain
spring that brings fresh water down into town" (Tricycle, Winter 2000,
p. 69). Cold Mountain is a good teacher, and his poems offer insightful
lessons. He writes:  

"Trust your own true nature"   

"Rock sugar and clarified butter
mean nothing when youre dead"

"The moon is the hub of the mind"

"Silence thoughts and the spirit becomes clear
focus on emptiness and the world grows still"

"Drop a ball of mud in water
and behold the thoughtless mind"

"Retiring to my hut I accept white hair"  

"The world is full of busy people
well-versed in countless views
blind to their true natures"  

"People who wander among clouds
dont have to buy the hills"  

Red Pines collection will become an well-travelled path on your
bookshelf to contemplative, Cold Mountain. (It is easy to understand
why Jack Kerouac dedicated his DHARMA BUMS to Cold Mountain in 1958.)
For those interested in meeting other Chinese hermits, I recommend
some contemporary poetry reminiscent of Cold Mountain, I recommend
David Budbills recent MOMENT TO MOMENT (2000).  

G. Merritt  


The Ancient Recluse

Somehow I ended up beneath pines
sleeping in comfort on boulders
there aren't any calendars in the mountains
winter ends but who counts the years

•   •   •

Nothing is known of the author of this poem, other than he lived in the Chungnan Mountains south of Ch'ang-an and called himself T'ai-shang ying-che (The Ancient Recluse). Here, he replies to someone who has asked him why and how long he had been living there. He dismisses the first question with ou-lai (somehow/by chance) and the second question with wu-li-jih (no calendar) and then laughs at the idea of time-constrained concerns. ...

— Red Pine (reprinted in the Seattle Times courtesy of Copper Canyon Press)



The trail to Cold Mountain is faint

the banks of Cold Stream are a jungle

birds constantly chatter away

I hear no sound of people

gusts of wind lash my face

flurries of snow bury my body

day after day no sun

year after year no spring

--Red Pine


Here's a flyer from Emory University announcing An Evening of Chines Poetry and Music:


Deserted mountains - not a man is seen,
Only the sounds of wind can be heard.
The sunbeam, entering the deep woods,
Reflects again, on the green moss. 
 -- Han Shan (8th century


Not one care in mind all year
I find enough joy every day in my hut
and after a meal and a pot of strong tea
I sit on a rock by a pond and count fish 

The stream is clear enough to see pebbles
my ungabled hut sits among vines
gibbons howl late at night when the moon sets
few guests get past the moss below the cliffs
bamboos in the yard bend with spring snow
plum trees on the ridge are gnarled by winter nights
the solitude of this path isn't old or new
grinding a brick on a rock is a waste 

A clean patch of ground after it rains
an ancient pine half-covered with moss
such scenes appear before us all
but how we use them isn't the same 

My home is secluded far from the world
the moss and woods are thick and the plants perfumed
I can see mountains rain or shine
all day I hear no market noise
I light a few leaves to make tea on my stove
to patch my robe I cut a cloud whisp
lifetimes seldom fill a hundred years
why bother chasing profit or fame 

from The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a Fourteenth-Century Chinese Hermit
according to the following website:


from a review of The Diamond Sutra: The Perfection of Wisdom. Tranlated by Red Pine.

 'The Diamond Sutra may look like a book, but it's really the body of
the Buddha. It's also your body, my body, all possible bodies. But it's
a body with nothing inside and nothing outside. It doesn't exist in
space or time. Nor is it a construct of the mind. It's no mind. And yet
because it's no mind, it has room for compassion.' Thus it is not
surprising that he sees the epitome of the text not in the famous
four-line verse from the final chapter asserting the illusory nature of
all phenomena, but rather in the verse from Chapter 26, in which the
Buddha proclaims,
Who looks for me in form
who seeks me in a voice
indulges in wasted effort
such people see me not.

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Jerry Katz
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