Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How To Live, Part Three: "A Single Grain Of Rice Falling -- Into The Great Barn"

The Chinese poets of the T'ang Dynasty are a great source of wisdom.  Seamus Heaney writes, in a poem about reading the poetry of Han Shan:  ". . . enviable stuff,/Unfussy and believable."  ("Squarings XXXVII" in Seeing Things.)  The wisdom of the T'ang poets is of particular value in a time of media and political hysteria.  In recent days, I have been reminded of lines from Patrick Kavanagh's "Leave Them Alone":  "Newspaper bedlamites who raised/Each day the devil's howl."  Kavanagh concludes:

The whole hysterical passing show
The hour apotheosised
Into a cul-de-sac will go
And be not even despised.

Here is Po Chu-i (as translated by Arthur Waley) on How to Live with perspective and humility (which are both, I fear, in short supply):

          Climbing the Ling Ying Terrace and Looking North

Mounting on high I begin to realize the smallness of Man's Domain;
Gazing into distance I begin to know the vanity of the Carnal World.
I turn my head and hurry home -- back to the Court and Market,
A single grain of rice falling -- into the Great Barn.

                 Samuel Palmer, "The Sleeping Shepherd" (c. 1831-1832)

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