Qiwu Qian: Passing by Venerable Rong’s Retreat 綦毋潛《过融上人兰若》
Jia Dao: Looking For a Hermit and In Vain 贾岛《寻隐者不遇》
Word-by-word Exegesis 逐字注：
过pass 融Rong 上upper 人man 兰若a Buddhist’s retreat [transliteration of Sanskrit aranya]
綦毋潛 [Qiwu Qian, 691-756, Tang Dynasty]
山mountain 头top 禅Zen 室house 挂hang 僧monk 衣clothe
窗window 外outside 无no 人people 溪creek 鸟bird 飞fly
黄yellow 昏dusk 半half 在on 下down 山mountain 路road
却but 听hear 泉spring 声sound 恋linger 翠green 微reclusion
This poem was written from a speaker’s point of view, as in most of Chinese classical poems the speaker can be identified as the poet. That is why most Chinese critics would take poetry as the expression of personal sentiments (Western mimesis vs Chinese expressionism).
The poem reads like this: I passed by Master Rong’s retreat on the mountain top, and saw there a monk’s clothe hanging outside. No one was in, and there were water birds flying across the window. As I was going away, down the hill, I saw the last rays of sunlight lingering on the path, and from behind the green trees came the gurgling of a spring.
To seek a hermit is a motif in classical Chinese poetry, and it had almost the import of the pursuit of the Grail in the West; but of course Chinese pursuit was much secular. The seeker had to be a secular person, and the urge to transcend the secular was also secular and even secularly worshiped or sublimated. A secular person tried to sublimate his secularity by the desire to transcend the secular, and as a result, in the poems the seeking for a hermit was never successful. The seeking itself became an end in itself; the desire to seek proved to be a remedy to appease the desire, temporarily, and writing it out was a follow-up, an after-effect, both a suppression and a titillation for another surge of the desire to “go again.”
There is another famous poem by Jia Dao (779-843 Tang Dynasty) entitled “To Seek A Hermit and In Vain”:
寻隐者不遇 (寻seek 隐者hermit不not遇meet)
贾岛 贾岛Jia Dao
松下问童子 (松pine trees 下below 问ask 童子page, child)
言师采药去 (言say 师master, teacher 采gather, pick up 药herb 去gone)
只在此山中 (只only 在in此this 山mountain中amid)
云 深不知处 (云clouds 深deep不not 知know 处location)
This poem reads like this: I ask the page below the pine trees, and he says his teacher has gone gathering herbs. He is amid the mountain, below the deep clouds but no one can tell where he can be located. This poem uses the page (boy attendant) as a naïve “objective correlative” of the speaker.
My rewriting tries to highlight the atmosphere of “no man’s land” in the universe:
A patched cassock hanging on a bamboo sticking out
From the window of this hermitage,
And on the mountain top, there are water birds flying to and fro.
Are they from the creek below, for this human being? Down there,
Dusk is full already,
Climbing up halfway to the path
By which I am going down, back to the society.
Water bubbling behind the thick layers of trees and shrubs.