Chang Jian: On Broken Mountain Zen Retreat
Word-by-word Exegesis 逐字注：
题inscribe 破broken 山mountain 寺temple 后behind禅Zen 院yard
清clear 晨morning 入enter 古ancient 寺temple
初beginning 日sun 照shine 高high 林forest
曲winding 径path 通leading to 幽seclude 处place
禅Zen 房house 花flower 木tree 深deep
山mountain 光light 悦enjoy, please 鸟bird 性nature
潭pool 影shadow 空empty 人human 心heart
万ten thousand 籁sound 此here 俱all 寂quiet
惟only 闻hear 钟bell 磬inverted bell 声sound
On a Zen Retreat behind Broken-Mountain Temple
Chang Jian (708-765? Tang Dynasty)
Early morning has entered the old temple,
The rising sun is shining over the high trees.
A winding path leads to a secluded site,
Deep in the flowers and woods, a Zen retreat.
Light over the mountain plays with the bird flight,
Shadows on the pool empty the human heart.
Ten thousand natural sounds are dead here,
Except for the chanting of bells over there.
Chinese calligraphy should read from right to left vertically.
Among the stellar poets of the high Tang, Chang Jian (708-765?) was not famous, except for, perhaps, a few poems, with this one the most popularly admired. Tang poetry was usually periodized into the early, the high, the middle and the late. Formally, the early Tang poetry was basically trying to test out the best positioning of words (Chinese characters) in terms of metric scheme and sound system, but there was much echo of the antique "rawness" (to borrow Robert Lowell's raw and cooked poetry, which may be an echo of Levi Strauss’ structural anthropological terms). The ruggedness in the early period gave way to the colloquial in the High Tang, when such poets as Li Bai (Li Po 701-762), Wang Wei (701-761) and Du Fu (712-770) would write about almost anything in their lives in a very plain language. The plainness of language, however, does not mean that the poets did not pay attention to diction. In fact, an everyday word only came into the poems when it was proved to be irreplaceably appropriate in the linguistic and thematic context. When the High Tang appeared to have exhausted the whole range of language, it was the middle Tang poets who suffered most. Therefore, the following period produced some of the most miserable craftsmen, an example of "the influence of anxiety" in ancient China.
Among the bitter poet craftsmen was a poet called Jia Dao (779-843), who once wrote a poem with such lines "Birds nestle on the tree by the pool, / A monk pushes the door in the moonlight." He was not sure whether to use "push" or "knock at" the door, and on his donkey to Chang'an (Xi'an, then capital of Tang) he was still buried with the thought and doing the gesture of “pushing” and “knocking,” not aware that he had broken into the file of honor guards of Han Yu (768-824), then the famous poet who would always consider himself a master (teacher). Han Yu decided "knocking" was better. Jia Dao was then a down-and-out scholar unsuccessful with imperial examination and considering becoming a monk. Maybe he was only trying to “borrow the light” from Han Yu. Anyway, since then, he was appointed as a low official, because of Han Yu's recommendation. Now,in Chinese, "push (or) knock" become a phrase, meaning "weighing and mulling over."
Generally, the late Tang poets had overcome the anxiety, and although fewer poets (poems) were produced at that time, the subtlety of the late Tang poetry was incomparable. Poets like Li Ho, Du Mu and Li Shangyin were composing pearls and gems. To use Chang Jian's lines, the late Tang poetry was "Follow a zigzagging path to the secluded sight, we find deep in the flowers and woods a poetic retreat."