Monday, August 18, 2014

Han shan or Cold Mountain: a poem

Han shan was a hermit poet who probably lived sometime during the ninth and tenth centuries.  "Han shan" means cold mountain in Chinese, which is the name of the mountain where he resided.  His poems show a strong Taoist and Buddhist influence, and he may have been a monk at some point.  His poems were only collected after his death by someone who went looking for him and found his poems on trees, rocks, and walls of a nearby temple and nearby villages.

Today, according to one account, Han shan is ignored by scholars and critics, but his poems are found in very many temples and shrines throughout China.

People ask the way to Cold Mountain
but roads don't reach Cold Mountain
in summer the ice doesn't melt
and the morning fog is too dense
how did someone like me arrive
our minds are not the same
if they were the same
you would be here

-- Cold Mountain --
from The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain
trans.  Red Pine

At first I thought the difficulty was purely physical.  Cold Mountain is a difficult place to reach, according, at least, to the first four lines.  However, the last four lines suggest that the real difficulty may not be physical but psychological or even spiritual.  That brings me to ask if  "Cold Mountain" is a place or a state of mind. 


  1. Off-topic: Do you watch Chinese films?

  2. Di,

    Very few, possibly less than five. I have watched more Japanese films, especially those by Kurosawa.

    Any particular recommendations?

    1. Oh, just wondering.
      I would recommend "Raise the Red Lantern", "To Live" and "Red Sorghum" by Zhang Yimou; "Together" and "Farewell My Concubine" by Chen Kaige.
      How about wuxia? Have you watched any wuxia film?

  3. Di,

    I'll make note of these.

    Not knowing the term, I had to do a search on "wuxia." I gather they are martial arts films. I have watched a few of these, but they all seem pretty much the same. Perhaps I haven't watched enough to distinguish the varieties.