A Poem by Han Shan

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I’ve been entertaining myself over the last few days translating some poems by Han Shan; and just for the hell of it, I thought I’d post one translation here. I don’t write much poetry of my own (although I used to), so I’m enjoying the experience of taking a break from writing prose, and tinkering with translations.

If you want a bit more background to this fabulous poet, to this particular poem, and to the challenges of translation, you can read Tony Barnstone’s excellent article here. But this poem will probably appeal to Buddhish visitors to this blog.


Self and No-self

There is a self,
       there is no self;

this is me,
       or then again not me.

This is how
       I turn it over in my mind,

dragging out the hours
       sat by the cliff.

Between my feet
       the green grass sprouts,

above my head
       the red dust falls,

and seeing me there,
       the common folk

surround my bed
       with funeral wine and flowers.


The article linked to above has three alternative translations, as well as the original, so you can have fun comparing, and finding objections to my version. That last line is a bit tricky, incidentally…

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