Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wilding poetry


We imagine the wild to be 'out there' in a wilderness beyond the usual domain, even if, in truth, there is no where we, as humans, have not been, touched and, sadly, often despoiled. Alternatively the wild is something that breaks in, from an 'out there' that is 'in here', disturbing our orderliness - the drunk on a Friday night say disrupting our walk home, aggressively advertising his presence. 'He behaved like a wild animal,' we say, even though this is usually a most inaccurate comparison.

But, in truth, the wild is amongst us, within the heart of the very nature of things, everywhere.

In David Hinton's superlative, 'Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape', he tells us that in China (of whose ancient poetry he is a distinguished translator) there is a mountain revered by artists, poets and monks and called 'Thatch-Hut' (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The ideogram that depicts this name is a stylised roof of a hut, combined with a kitchen vessel on a pedestal and...a tiger! The mountain is a home, the rightful dwelling place of monks and poets, yet every domestic home contains something other - the dynamism of a tiger, universally admired for the spontaneous nature of its movements and the clarity of its mind. The domestic being just so is always complemented by the wild that eludes description, that bursts forth into any complacency. There is always a tiger in our tank!

Hinton's book is full of such magical explorations of how the thinking and cosmology of China structured its language and the possibilities of its art and expression. At the heart of which is the sense that everything that is shown forth emerges out of mystery, out of an 'absence', a 'void' that can never be named only lived. We live always out of the 'wild' - that which fails our categories - and in doing so, we are invited always to live out of a vulnerable compassion that never seeks the closure of our opinions.

It is a beautiful book - explorations of Chinese poetry and of the Taoist/Ch'an mind woven into the fabric of meditations on language and poetry and on the walks he takes, to and fro, on his own mountain - Hunger Mountain in Vermont, his home.

Evening Landscape, Clearing Snow

Walking-stick in hand, I watch snow clear.
Ten thousand clouds and streams banked up,
woodcutters return to their simple homes,
and soon a cold sun sets among risky peaks.

A wildfire burns among ridgeline grasses.
Scraps of mist rise, born of rock and pine.
On the road back to the monastery,
I hear it struck: that bell of evening skies!

From 'Mountain Home the Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China' translated by David Hinton

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