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Lions Roar : May 2009
About a Poem: David Hinton on Li Po’s “Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon” PAINTINGBYHEATHERMIDORIYAMADA DRINKING ALONE BENEATH THE MOON Among the blossoms, a single jar of wine. No one else here, I ladle it out myself. Raising my cup, I toast the bright moon, and facing my shadow makes friends three, though moon has never understood wine, and shadow only trails along behind me. Kindred a moment with moon and shadow, I’ve found a joy that must infuse spring: I sing, and moon rocks back and forth; I dance, and shadow tumbles into pieces. Sober, we’re together and happy. Drunk, we scatter away into our own directions. Intimates forever, we’ll wander carefree and meet again in Star River distances. THE POETRY in each of the world’s cultural traditions gets its deep form from its native cosmology. The native cosmology of classical Chinese poetry is a system they called Taoism, later incorporated into Chan Buddhism. We might now describe that ancient system as deep ecology, for in it humans are an organic part of the Earth and its natural processes. This very contemporary insight is altogether different from the Judeo-Christian worldview, in which we are spirits visiting this merely material Earth almost like aliens, spirits whose true spirit- home lies elsewhere—a belief that facilitated a radically exploitative relationship to the environment. Growing out of its native cosmology, classical Chinese poetry reg- isters a very different sense of what the self is. In this poetry, identity can be so much a part of the empirical world that it actually becomes landscape, as in this poem by Li Po from the eighth century: REVERENCE-PAVILION MOUNTAIN, SITTING ALONE Birds have vanished into deep skies. A last cloud drifts away, all idleness. Inexhaustible, this Mountain and I gaze at each other, it alone remaining. Or as in this ninth-century poem by Tu Mu, in which the poet’s thoughts are made up entirely of landscape: EGRETS Robes of snow, crests of snow, and beaks of azure jade, they fish in shadowy streams. Then startling up into flight, they leave emerald mountains for lit distances. Pear blossoms, a tree-full, tumble in the evening wind. And the fate of identity, our fate at the end of life, is also landscape in Chinese poetry, as when T’ao Ch’ien, the great fourth-century poet, says: “Once you’re dead and gone, what then? Trust yourself to the mountainside. It will take you in.” Or indeed, as modern as- tronomy has taught us, with its birth and death of stars and planets like ours, our fate is ultimately out there in the cosmos—a fact Li Po sensed beautifully in his poem about drinking wine here in the Milky Way, which the Chinese call the Star River. ♦ 104 SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2009