Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another Bone Kanji

...a yamabushi (an ascetic who practiced austerities in the mountains to attain supernatural powers) met Ikkyu on a mountain path.
"Where are you going, Honorable Zen monk?" he inquired.
"Wherever the wind takes me," Ikkyu told the yamabushi.
"What happens when there is no breeze?"
"Then I make my own," Ikkyu said with a laugh as he blew on his bamboo flute. ***p. 33

From Three Zen Masters by John Stevens


A single shakuhachi laments sorrow difficult to bare;
Blowing it, one enters into the song of a barbarian
flute at the frontier.
In the city, at the crossroad, whose tune is it?
Among the students of Shao-lin, I have no friends.

Shakuhachi: A bamboo flute played vertically, capable of producing a broad range of sound from a low, throaty whisper to a shrill, piercing tremolo. Wandering mendicant monks played shakuhachi as they went about begging.
song of a barbarian flute at the frontier: China's long ever-beleagured border demanded a constant supply of troops and administrators to maintain it. Most officials as some point in their career had to take a turn of duty on the bleak frontier, which is why the frontier lament has been from early times a standard theme in Chinese poetry. The lonely sound of the barbarian flute bringing home to the poet the alien nature of his surroundings recurs often in frontier poems.
Shaolin: The dwelling place of Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of Zen, hence here a reference to the Zen school.

Overtly simple, this poem draws its effect from a complex ambiguity. Blowing into the shakuhachi, the poet enters the song of the barbarian flute on the frontier. This can mean he enters the feelings of lonliness aroused by hearing the flute and realizing the strangeness of the land. At the same time, it can implythat the poet's tune on the shakuhachi is like a barbarian song, foreign, alien to his listeners. It is natural to feel isolated at the frontier but the poet feels alone in the middle of the city. He is both a solitary man of culture in the midst of barbarians stalking the streets of an alien city.***pp. 75-76

From Ikkyu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology by Sonja Arntzen