The poems reveal a thorough knowledge of Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist sources as well as of poetry and literature. Han-shan never professes a particular creed but freely borrows from all the traditions.
Indeed he was a consistent critic of rituals and monks. In one poem he speaks of encountering Taoist monks who praise elixirs and await a crane or fish at death and calls them "fools You are not really hermits you just call yourselves recluses they would never wear silk headdress they prefer a hemp bandana It is not that Han-shan is a cynic with no point of view, for everywhere his poems reflect the wisdom of Taoist and Buddhist thought.
In an early poem, Han-shan had described himself as a "poor clerk" and his escape and mountain isolation meant that his former poverty became hermit simplicity. At first he lived in a cave "my cave is on a distant ridge" , and amenities were few:. I returned to the edge of a forest and chose the life of a farmer forthright in my dealings no flattery in my speech But after the personal ignominy of the An Lu-shan Rebellion, not all was contentment for Han-shan.
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He mentions that his wife "disdained" him, probably referring to the difficult poverty after their reclusion. He never mentions her again, nor his son -- only his aloneness and seclusion. One early poem offers a glimpse of his bleakest years. A trifle poor in the past today I am completely poor whatever I do does not work out every road is a treadmill my legs quake in the mud my stomach aches on festival days Han-shan mentions how dew soaks his thatched eaves and that the sill of his only window, through which moonlight enters, is made of old crockery -- obvious signs of poverty.
But for all that, he asserts, "Even if I had a heap of gold, I would rather be poor in the woods. When hermits hide from society most retire to the hills where green vines veil the slopes and jade streams echo unbroken where happiness reigns and contentment lasts where pure white lotus minds are not stained by the muddy world.
BALLAD OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN'S GRAVE: and other poems of the Old West
In his encounters, he notes, people call him crazy, ugly, unkempt, and unintelligible. Han-shan did not care. People could not begin to understand, he reflects.
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He was perpetually "hard in pursuit of meeting a buddha," but it probably would not happen. The man in the clouds and cliffs with one thin robe in autumn he lets the leaves fall in spring he lets the trees bloom he sleeps through the Three Realms free of concerns with moonlight and wind for his home. Cold Mountain is nothing but clouds secluded and free of dust a hermit owns a cushion of straw the moon is his lone lamp his bed of stone overlooks a pool his neighbors are tigers and deer preferring the joys of solitude he remains as a man beyond form.
Relaxing below Cold Cliff the surprises are very special taking a basket to gather wild plants bringing it back loaded with fruit spreading fresh grass for a simple meal nibbling on magic mushrooms rinsing my ladle and bowl in a pool making a stew from scraps sitting in sunshine wrapped in a robe reading the poems of the ancients.
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Cold Mountain has a dwelling with no partitions inside six doors open left and right from the hall he sees blue sky wherever he looks the house is bare the east wall greets the west wall nothing, really, between them no need for anybody's care he makes a small fire when cold comes cooks plants when he gets hungry he is not like the old farmer who enlarges his fields and outbuildings It was only a symbol, but symbols are the bedrock of poetry — and when one falls, wordsmiths cry. It was clearly the silhouette of a man — not a chipmunk or a dolphin. It was a manly man, carved as another stone-face Daniel Webster wrote, by the Almighty himself.
It is, after all, the icon on our coins and license plates and road signs. How embarrassing for the governor to have the state symbol fall to pieces on his watch.
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New Hampshire is certainly less of a state for the loss of its rocky symbol, voted "favorite icon" in a NH Historical Society poll not long ago. Sure it was an easy metaphor, but it was also an awesome image. The best known poem on the topic, reprinted below, is by stone-faced statesman Daniel Webster who lived for a decade in downton Portsmouth. Robert Frost, who lived in Franconia for a time, is groaning even now. Poet john Greenleaf Whittier came so frequently to the New Hampshire hills that he got one of them named in his honor.
Hawthorne died in the NH mountains in on a trip with his friend Franklin Pierce who suggested he go there for his health.
Henry David Thoreau himself was one of the first of the famous poets to rusticate among the White Mountains. You can hear them crying even now over the loss of the Great Profile. Gigantic sire, unfallen still they crest! Primeval dweller where the wild winds rest!
Empires and states it antedates, And wars, and arts, and crime, and glory; In that dim morn when man was born Thy head with centuries was hoary. When will thy watching cease - thy visage pass away?
And engineering skill run here its iron road? I am Hiawatha! From an Oratory by Daniel Webster Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades.
Related Poetry of a Mountain Man
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