cold mountain (1)

What does my yard contain? A bit of pale winter sun, power lines, the rattle of small birds on bare branches. A cock’s crowing in someone’s backyard. A city, and someone’s still raising chickens in a coop up one of those hillside alleys. Every year I’ve lived here, something has surprised me. Like that cock’s crowing over the chugger of trash trucks and mopeds; has surprised me, and emptied out all expectations. There’s less to own in a world that has no definite shape.



I’m reading one of Cold Mountain (Han Shan)’s poems a day for 2012. I’ll follow the sequence of Red Pine’s translation;  I’m uncertain about copyright issues and so haven’t included Red Pine’s translation of individual poems in the post. If you’d like to see the original (in both Chinese and Red Pine’s translation), please see Google Book’s The Collected Poems of Cold Mountain. Today’s poem is (1) on page 37.)


4 comments on “cold mountain (1)

  1. Kevin Kim says:

    How good is your classical Chinese at this point? Do you think you might try translating every seventh poem (i.e., one a week) into English? (One per day might be asking too much of anyone.)

    Sorry to hear about your headaches. “¿Ay, quién podrá sanarme?” indeed.

    • seon joon says:


      Yes, I think I could attempt translations. Sutras and sutra commentary are actually relatively easy at this point; literary Chinese, however, will present a bit of a challenge, both in terms of vocabulary and grammar, which is part of the reason I chose Cold Mountain’s poems for this project. I need to keep Chinese in my daily reading habit or risk losing what (little) I’ve gained. This is a good suggestion, though: one a week? I’ll give it a try. The poems are short enough and there’s not such a terrible amount of new vocab that this shouldn’t be possible. If I could do Chinese characters more easily on my computer than I can at present I would include the original poem in each post. Including all of Red Pine’s translations seems to be copyright-risky, but the poems themselves should be in the public domain. (But inputting Chinese characters on my Mac requires a lot of work.)

      Yeah, these headaches…never go away. Remission always teases me with the hope they’re gone for good, and then bam! They’re back. Neurologically, I’m the Princess and the pea, it seems.

      • Kevin Kim says:

        I think it’s awesome that you’ve learned as much as you have over the years.

        Perhaps you can find an easy way to include the original Chinese in your posts. You might, for example, just snap a picture of the relevant page with your phone (assuming you have one!), then post that image along with your translation. Or use a digicam, since you’ve obviously got one of those.

        I wonder whether Han Shan’s poetry is online somewhere, ready to be copied and pasted, like The Compleat Works of Wm. Shakespeare (see here, for example).

        Have you had your head scanned? You might want to do that. We wouldn’t want you living the life of Sister John of the Cross in Lying Awake.

        Sorry if I’m (s)mothering you. There’s no pressure about any of this– translations or checkups.


      • seon joon says:

        Kevin, not to point out the obvious, but I live in a Korean temple, among the masters and virtuosos of smothering. *grin* No, what you’re doing is called “being responsive,” not smothering. When I start wondering when one of our senior nuns starting commenting on my blog in your name, I’ll let you know.

        I’ve had a CAT scan before: nothing. Cluster headaches leave no “damage” to the brain, nor do they have a cause in something like a lesion or tumor. The pathology isn’t well-understood, but problems with the pituitary gland may be the culprit. My sister gets these, too, although I don’t know about the severity of her attacks. The drugs that are out there don’t really treat the disease so much as try to control the attacks. In Korea, doctors don’t know what these are and misdiagnose me with migraines all the time, nor will listen to me when I tell them it’s actually another disease entirely. I’ve given up trying to get drugs or treatment here. The question of what constitutes “damage” is interesting, since the after-effects of a prolonged attack takes me sometimes months to recover from.

        That aside, though: I’m also looking for online copies of the poems in Chinese. My internet has been spotty the past couple of days and I haven’t been able to do an extensive search for the poems. (I suspect a Korean website or database might have them.) But I do have both a phone with a camera and a camera, so taking pictures of the text might work nicely! Thanks for the suggestion.

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