Poetry of HanShan

HanShan or Han-Shan or Cold Mountain (9th century)

In history Hanshan has become a mythological figure, so not much is certain at a factual level. But what is certain is that he can definitely be dated to either the 8th or 9th century CE. After Hanshan’s disappearance, a Taoist named Xu Lingfu, a native of Hangzhou, apparently collected his poems from the various mountains, rocks, trees, and walls they were written on.

Hanshan draws heavily on Buddhist and Taoist themes. He is hard to pin down religiously. He was not a Chan monk, though Chan concepts and terminology sometimes appear in his work. He criticized the Buddhists at Tiantai, yet used many Buddhist ideas and formulations. He was not seemingly a Taoist either, as he directed criticism at them as well. But he had no problem bringing Taoist scriptural quotations, and Taoist language when describing his mountains, into his poems. He seems simply to have been himself. In that we have the core of Taoism and so I consider him to be a Taoist at heart poking holes where appropriate in Taoist doctrine. All doctrines over time gather some red dust, it’s important to realize that every teaching of man needs to be carefully looked at from your own perspective.

Poem # 204: Flowing Jade

Down to the stream to watch the jade flow
or back to the cliff to sit on a boulder
my mind like a cloud remains unattached
what do I need in the faraway world

Cold Mountain Path

Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, the mist-blurred grass.
The moss is slippery, though there’s been no rain
The pine sings, but there’s no wind.
Who can leap the world’s ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?

Poem 253

Children, I implore you
get out of the burning house now.
Three carts await outside
to save you from a homeless life.
Relax in the village square
before the sky, everything’s empty.
No direction is better or worse,
East just as good as West.
Those who know the meaning of this
are free to go where they want.

Poem 13

Brothers share five districts;
father and sons three states.
To learn where the wild ducks fly
follow the white-hare banner!
Find a magic melon in your dream!
Steal a sacred orange from the palace!
Far away from your native land
swim with fish in a stream!

Poem 106

The layered bloom of hills and streams
Kingfisher shades beneath rose-colored clouds
mountain mists soak my cotton bandanna,
dew penetrates my palm-bark coat.
On my feet are traveling shoes,
my hand holds an old vine staff.
Again I gaze beyond the dusty world-
what more could I want in that land of dreams?

Poem 246

I recently hiked to a temple in the clouds
and met some Taoist priests.
Their star caps and moon caps askew
they explained they lived in the wild.
I asked them the art of transcendence;
they said it was beyond compare,
and called it the peerless power.
The elixir meanwhile was the secret of the gods
and that they were waiting for a crane at death,
or some said they’d ride off on a fish.
Afterwards I thought this through
and concluded they were all fools.
Look at an arrow shot into the sky-
how quickly it falls back to earth.
Even if they could become immortals,
they would be like cemetery ghosts.
Meanwhile the moon of our mind shines bright.
How can phenomena compare?
As for the key to immortality,
within ourselves is the chief of spirits.
Don’t follow Lords of the Yellow Turban
persisting in idiocy, holding onto doubts.

Poem 26:

Since I came to Cold Mountain
how many thousand years have passed?
Accepting my fate I fled to the woods,
to dwell and gaze in freedom.
No one visits the cliffs
forever hidden by clouds.
Soft grass serves as a mattress,
my quilt is the dark blue sky.
A boulder makes a fine pillow;
Heaven and Earth can crumble and change.

Poem 29:

I spur my horse past the ruined city;
the ruined city, that wakes the traveler’s thoughts:
ancient battlements, high and low;
old grave mounds, great and small.

Where the shadow of a single tumbleweed trembles
and the voice of the great trees clings forever,
I sigh over all these common bones —
No roll of the immortals bears their names.

Sitting Alone

Sitting alone in peace before these cliffs
the full moon is heaven’s beacon
the ten thousand things are all reflections
the moon originally has no light
wide open the spirit of itself is pure
hold fast to the void realize its subtle mystery
look at the moon like this
this moon that is the heart’s pivot

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