HyC Adventures
The Poetics of Perception
The Karma of Words: A Poem by Bai Juyi

 

 

 

 

The Karma of Words:

A Poem by

Bai Juyi

 

Bai Juyi (772-846), a prolific writer who left over 2800 poems as his legacy, was a renowned poet of the Tang era who is still revered. As a serious student and practitioner of Buddhism, he was, if not the first Chinese poet to include Zen experience and insights in his work, the first to make it an integral part of his poetry. By the same token, poetry became an integral part of his expression of Zen and of life. And, even though Zen is said to be “not founded on words and letters,” he embraced this expression as the following poem intimates.

 

 He that thirty years ago was master of this cottage­—

 Though today he is still in the world, his hair is white as silk.

 For climbing mountains and exploring streams he has not now the strength;

 You would not find him as he used to be when Marshal of Chiang-chou.

 He has gradually vanquished the demon of wine and does not get wildly drunk;

 But the Karma of Words still remains; he has not abandoned verse.

 Should you on your journey happen to pass by the Incense Burner Peak

 Take this tiding to the Eastern Forest, that the reverend monks may know.

 

Bai Juyi’s Chinese text:

 

 三十年前草堂主、

 而今雖在鬢如絲。

 登山尋水應無力、

 不似江州司馬时。

 漸伏酒魔休放醉、

 猶殘口業未拋詩。

 君行過到爐峰下、

 為報東林長老知。

 

 

With the lines juxtaposed:

 

三十年前草堂主、而今雖在鬢如絲。

He that thirty years ago was master of this cottage­—

Though today he is still in the world, his hair is white as silk.

 

登山尋水應無力、不似江州司馬时。

For climbing mountains and exploring streams he has not now the strength;

You would not find him as he used to be when Marshal of Chiang-chou.

 

漸伏酒魔休放醉、猶殘口業未拋詩。

He has gradually vanquished the Demon of Wine and does not get wildly drunk;

But the Karma of Words still remains; he has not abandoned verse.

 

君行過到爐峰下、為報東林長老知。

Should you on your journey happen to pass by the Incense Burner Peak

Take this tiding to the Eastern Forest, that the reverend monks may know.

 

 

Bai Juyi prefaced his poem with these words:

 

寄題廬山舊草堂、兼呈二林寺道侣

[To be inscribed on the walls of my cottage on Lu Shan mountain, and also shown to the monks of the Two Forest Temples]

 

 

English translation:

Arthur Waley, The Life and Times of Po Chü-I, p. 207.

 

 

 Bái Jūyì (Pinyin)

 白居易

 Po Chü-I (Wade-Giles)

 

 

 

HyC

 

 

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The Karma of Words: A Poem by Bai Juyi
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