The Flute

CW29:No.35

Yogi C. M. Chen


I. Introduction: My Husband's Poetical Life

Mrs. Hsain-Yu Chen


"His life is liken'd to a poem" a line from one of my husband's poems, is a happy description of my husband's life as a poet. My husband is a pure Buddhist who does not approve of Su Man-Shu for being a Buddhist and a poet of non-Buddhism. In fact, during the long years from the time of our marriage to the time of his comprehension of Ch'an, he stubbornly forbade himself to compose any poems. He even tried to dissuade his close friend old Upasaka Ouyang Shen from doing so, as can be evidenced by the lines to the old Upasaka: "Without a sign the spring has left, I'd like to know what poems you've left." Therefore, it is no wonder why in this collection there is not a single line dealing with our married life.

I remember that before I ever met him, I had heard of him spoken of as a child poet. At the young age of 13, he already had a collection of his own poems entitled "Youthful Poems" but he then imposed a poetic ban on himself. The example set by the master named Lotus-Pond influenced his decision to do away with his youthful verses since at that time he was devoted to the Pure Land Sect of Buddhism.

However, as soon as he learned from Master Lola at K'uang Lu the Buddhist ways of meditation and introspection, he often felt an inner joy urging him to find outlet again in poetry. At first, he still refrained from poetizing himself. He only selected some classical verses of ancient Buddhist sages to read aloud. When he finally secluded himself on Mouyah Snow Mountain in Shikang Province, he then began to lift his poetic ban, yet with the determination to write only quatrains or primitive style. Therefore, in this collection all the poems are quatrains and in another collection, all are "primitive style".

In this connection, the metrical forms are not affected to convey the Buddhist truth. He finds suitable media in naturalistic poetry, from which, furthermore, he develops his own inspiratory style, which means he composes poems only when he is inspired. He may not produce a single verse for three to six months, yet he may write several quatrains in one day, as far as his inspiration carried him. He often says that it is not the poet who makes poetry, but inspiration which does it. He only scribes down what his inspiration dictates to him. I know in this collection that at least one line of each quatrain comes from the inspiration and the other three lines are natural decorations. He seldom makes antitheses. The few to be found in his quatrains are not deliberately indited, but enter into his cantos naturally in pairs.

All this goes to say that my husband's life as a pious Buddhist and his poetry are one and inseparable. In the cantos "meditation", "Childish Disposition" and "Fable", the verses are didactic in Ch'an yet serve to reflect his life at the same time. In the cantos "Mountain Life", "Cave Life", "River Life", "Grove Life", and "Home Life" the quatrains note down the details of his life of each period in the pursuit of Buddhist truth and enlightenment, yet with abundant teaching easily detectable between the lines. I dare say that Ch'an is one great poetic source for him, just as much as the great path is another. His cantos of "Dismissal of Convention", "Friendly Persuasion", "National Disaster" are almost saturated with tears. Readers might hear his wail directly from various pages of his book. I remember that we had a family reunion after he left the cave called "Flower Offering" and we were laughing heartily together. Suddenly, he recited with a chuckle his poem "Our home is scattered in four corners of the world". Sure enough, we were soon in tears. At that time I even chided him, saying that a Buddhist should not play on people's hearts.

During one period, he also wrote a number of light-hearted lyrics on vajrayana senses and I would not forbid him to publish them. He is planning another collection for them which may alleviate some of the sad effects produced by this collection.

It is said that our great poet Ouyang Shiu caught his poetic inspiration on horseback, on pillow and on toilet. My husband, however, catches his inspiration in air, in dream and in leisure. Some of my husband's verses are obtained from the heavenly words in the air, and some from visions in his dreams, but most of his works were produced in leisure. He once said that his poetry is a camera for the picture in the air and all he does is just click the shutter. In the canto "Miscellaneous" the reader will be able to understand his prosody of merely recording the words and phrases which have somehow entered his mind. This explains why he sometimes does not feel obliged to finish a quatrain when only one or two lines are ready, and he waits for future inspiration to complete it. For instance, he once stopped at a small tea-house at Cheng-Tu on his way to the Shikang Province and he was moved to compose a couplet, "With roll of tongues the themes the pack'd house shar'd, with cups of tea a hundred years are air'd". Three or four years later, during which he had become a full-fledged Buddhist through studies, translation of Sutras and meditation in retreat, he walked on Cheng-Tu streets again and sighted outside a small wine-house a sign reading "To bid good-bye when drunk and rightly car'd". He then thought of his pigeon holed couplet and decided to make that sign the fourth line of a quatrain by adding the third line "We'd meet tomorrow if we still well far'd". This quatrain was quite popular and liked by fellow Buddhists in Szechuan Province.

In short, my husband lives in a poetic world. His mind is poetized, his views are poetized, and his environments are poetized as well. His lines such as "A rhyme exist'd since ancient day" and "Ev'rywhere are songs endless" all serve to testify that he regards the whole universe as an endless primitive poem. All his joyous, frustrated, peaceful and wretched experiences are reflected in his works in corresponding mood. Even we, the members of his family, become sometimes his poetic material. I felt that the aim of my husband's seclusion to devote himself to meditation and introspection was to search for the sources of the "Great Joy"and of the "Great Nirvana". Now I come to realize that the sources of the "Great Joy" and "Great Nirvana" are also the sources of his poetry. He deemed insufficient the advocation of "the unity of poetry with Ch'an" by many poets of the Tang Dynasty. My husband set forth the Trinity of Compassion, Ch'an, and Poetry, which he contended were indispensable constituents of true Buddhist poetry. All the verses of the late enlightened Masters such as Han-Shan of China and Milarepa of Tibet, were graced by this Trinity. To this effect, we, as readers of Buddhist metrical works, should trace their poetic sources rather than study their prosody. That was the reason my husband imposed upon himself a poetic ban, which he lifted only when he became a mere scribe for his inspiration.

To sum up, my husband lives in his poetry rather than produces his poetry. His inspiratory theory contends that poetry has existed since the Non-beginning and will last until the Non-end. Sensitive persons in every age will be similarly inspired by this pre-existent poetic being. I recall that three days before the fall of our home town to the Japanese invaders, my husband, directed by his foreboding, took us in time out there to live with him in his poetic world, where we gradually forgot the war and began to live with him in a higher realm of tears and laughter, joys and compassion. It is my sincere hope that the readers will find such a realm in my husband's verses as we did in them. My husband has long since ceased being a companion for me alone. He has dedicated himself to Buddha, or in other words, to his readers. I am sure that the readers will be able to understand my husband better from his works than I do.


II. POEMS

MY PILGRIMAGE TO SACRED MOUNT CH'IU

For years to visit Sacred Mount Ch'iu I have yearned,
Upon arrival I would fain have homeward turned,
For I recall the paths with willows, flow'rs envir'ned,
Were not unlike the view which I have here discerned.


RIMES ON HORSEBACK

The hoofs are pacing on the drizzling rain;
The wheat is waving in the winnowing wind,
The diving egrets path the craggy terrain,
My pilgrim's heart has long flown 'yond the wind.


I RIDE PAST SNOWY MOUNTAINS

With nimble hoofs my pony darts on wing,
Midst clouds past snowy mountains at one spring.
The sounding fountains bid the echoes ring;
The whisp'ring pines compel me wildly sing.


ODE TO A SCREW

Able to drive, head first, straight in,
With body round easy to spin.
You spin between being and non-being,
You might discern Buddha's meaning.


THE FALLEN KITE

The kite that seem'd so chilled on high,
Has fall'n to red fence from the sky.
Deprived of hands of child that ply,
With ev'n the line it will not fly.


HEARING NEIGHBOUR'S CHILD CRY

The child is often in distress;
The mother hates his meat to press.
In vain to cling to mother's dress,
With face to wall he cries with stress.


ODE TO THE REFLECTION IN MIRROR

Aft bath the maiden puts on new attire,
In vain for one to praise her she desires,
Her image own in mirror she acquires,
The two same maidens each other admire.


PUMPKIN LEAVES

Imagine pumpkin leaves,
Receive the sun and rains,
Provide with food poor swains.
Protect their massive fruits.


A PARROT

He talks as order'd so,
With eloquence diffuse,
Can't utter his own woe,
He wins a fame abstruse.


A BEE

He bustles 'midst the flowers,
And stings at will the meddlers;
The honey he thus gathers,
Will sweeten mouths of others.


THE COW

When teaming crops the harvest did allow,
In rains of Spring he yelled the cow to plow,
So muse the cowherds on the past, while now,
To slaughter-house he slowly leads the cow.


THE WOODCUTTER

Aware that fire will soar with timber sear applied,
He hastes through pines and willows dancing side by side,
To idle flow'rs and grass his head is too denied,
The cutter dash direct to trees whose roots are dried.


ODE TO PLANT WHICH HAS NO FLOWER

Without a flower to entice,
The vulgar bees and butterflies,
To propagate when season rises,
In wind so fast it multiplies.


POSITION OFFERED FROM HEAVEN

As Lord of Mountain I myself assign,
Be friend the moon through bamboos, winds from pine.
No more taxation's claim'd as task of mine,
Then bid the flowers to bloom and bloom more fine.


LIGHTS

Phosphorescence 'midst tombs, from hill-town light,
The stars on top illume the sky at night;
Yet flow of incense lit at deep-bed site,
Sends curling smoke ascending topmost height.


THE WIND CAN READ

Fame and wealth are not the aim for study;
Knowledge you obtain from books is scanty.
You should learn to read like wind so gusty.
Turning pages which to her are empty.


ODE TO BEES

They settle right at hearts of flowers,
Yet petals' frangrance's not distrub'd.
Their honey makes from life of flow'rs,
The garden's beauty's kept uncurb'd.


ODE TO A BUTTERFLY

With body light on wind it rides,
It blends so well with sky and air.
Among the flow'rs it freely glides,
It makes the meadow no less fair.


WHY BEING SO GREEDY

A bird requires one twig for nest;
A mouse some sips from river gets.
A man on eight feet stretches who owns chambers;
A man on three meals lives who own acres.


ONE REGRET

Though cloud's are peaks in front and vales profound,
I'd reach another town where roads, stream wound,
I journey'd thus, water-soaked and mud-crown'd,
With rue I couldn't end Shikiang in one bound.


MY WISH

I count as pilgrims sole those lonesome crows,
I see white rocks, save pines from wind that blows,
I'll live with Buddhas here long as time flows,
'Tis naught if all in cap'tal my name knows.


PARTING FROM TEKPAPAN MONASTERY

Red vines retain'd my bridles as to pry;
"How long I'd roam the woods and springs so free?"
With laugh I freed myself and point'd up high,
Please ask the silver pheasant you see.


A SCENE AT MY HERMITAGE

I'm not forlorn in a small hut living,
Pagoda, flags shade be ever casting,
Snow-clad hills from th'open door I'm e'er seeing,
The grass and flow'rs form such pretty painting.


A SCENE AT MY HERMITAGE

Upon arrival I'd renounce my lay concern,
No family affairs would warrant my return.
Behind the graveyard and monast'ry I'd discern,
The hut where I should stay in snowy mountain stern.


A SCENE AT MY HERMITAGE

Mansions yonder glitter red so vulgar,
Nearby mountains blue, green fields are fairer.
All the richmen's labor,
Tickles poormen's laughter.


A SCENE AT MY HERMITAGE

The Hills remote through bamboos sparse are seen;
The silver streams are winding lithe between.
Whose chimney sends from aft the pines, peaks green,
A stretch of smoke through ten-mile peaceful plain?


A SCENE AT MY HERMITAGE

I roll my window curtains, trees and vales to see,
The ev'ning clouds adorn the peaks like color'd sea.
If not for hay that's burning bright at yonder lea,
I shan't believe on high there habitation be.


A SMALL COCKTAIL PARTY AT MY HERMITAGE

I see from window th' small town on the hill,
I'd send a boy for wine for half a mile.
Up here my cottage offers no more thrill,
Than drink 'midst bamboos, dance with wind awhile.


ANOTHER SCENE AT MY HERMITAGE

Surround'ng my hut are pulse fields banked with flow'rs,
My window curtain's bamboos near which tower,
Cloud valley's where men lose visual powers,
The scenery by layers protects my bower.


THE FISHERMAN

He sleeps in peace in tiny bark,
Which sails in moonlight windy stream.
The dock is far and shores are dark,
He travels mile aft mile in dream.


AFTER THE FALL OF MY HOME TOWN

A fisherman is casting net at wharf,
A hoary swain is burning hay on shore.
Though all of these are humdrum daily chore,
They look so peaceful in a time of war.


MY HOME TOWN AFTER A BATTLE

The town is ruin'd, the land is sorrow,
Yet Spring still colors top of willow.
I wish so much to tell the swallow,
To stop its southward trip tomorrow.


FREE

My life is free as raft on lake;
My fate to duckweeds likeness take.
No care I soon to dreamland make,
From which I often laugh to wake.


SUN BATH

I bathe beneath the sky,
Like cloud immense and white;
When sky's within my mind,
It looks in void a mite.


THREE DIMENSIONS

What's before may be behind;
What's behind may be before.
Blank and void becomes our mind,
Rear and Front exist no more.


I ENVY A BEGGAR

He owns no cash, not e'en a piece,
He sleeps on ground without a lease,
He lives in leisure, dies in peace,
With ignorance his mind's at ease.


CAREFREE LIFE

No care no grief I live my day,
I have the bliss of being a fay.
I fear no gods I righteous stay,
My mind's in peace and noise makes way.


SHANGRI-LA

Mouth be shut and ears be blind,
Mind in peace a bliss you'll find.
Not before and not behind,
Shangri-la is in your mind.


WO***NG ON MY MANUSCRIPT

Without the window ash-trees shook,
Within I read the sacred book.
To cheer the work I undertook,
The trees shed leaves to tag my book.


DESCRIPTION OF THE STATE OF MEDITATION TO A FRIEND

Breath paus'd, heart stopp'd and pulse suspended,
My mind, the world, are blended.
When all desires are gone,
A light within turn'd on.


THE ALARM CLOCK

The jade expend'd you can restore;
The time counsum'd will come no more.
The clock a pity on you bore,
Assur'd this truth you wouldn't ignore.


RIMES BENEATH THE MOONLIGHT

The stars still shine on porch so lustrous,
The dirt and dust are felicitous,
The cause, effect are adscititious,
This life of mine then seems superfluous.


SNOW CLAD MOUNTAINS IN THE MORNING

A gale clean-swept the sky at night,
At dawn the mists and clouds are fled.
Are snow-clad mountains ever white?
In morning sun they look mere red.


ILLUSIONS

The flow'rs and moon are forms the mind remake,
Fear can cause one to see in cup a snake.
Then likewise sorrows, joys are merely fake,
Are being produced in men from sheer mistake.


IN SECLUSION TO PRAY FOR OTHERS

I live in aimless laze,
At top 'midst mountain maze.
With news from home like haze,
All day some pray'rs I phrase.


TIME IS PRECIOUS

Your time to hold upon,
Your mind's not trifles on;
Some worldliness is gone;
Some godliness is won.


ON THE STREET

The body is intact,
Which hurts e'en hair is whack'd;
I hate to walk on streets,
Where fellow sinners pack'd.


NO NEED FOR A MASTER

The world's in dolor,
'Tis hearts which torture.
When hearts in stupor,
No need for Master.


RETURNING FROM MY MEDITATION

My horse runs wild no whip's applied,
The setting sun 'hind mountains hide.
In case my horse should throw me 'side,
'Tis into flow'rs and grass I'd glide.


SELF-REPROACH

My virtues low remain,
And lame my heart and brain.
I see this world in pain,
I just look on in vain.


A RETORT FOR INQUIRY OF MY PROGRESS IN MY SPIRITUAL QUEST

Concern'dly you inquired for progress,
My life and probe at present listless.
The search for truth's like flight of kite,
It's fast while low, it's slow at height.


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