cold mountain (62)

I don’t understand you, Han Shan. You pull up your nose in disdain at “worldly life,” then you spend half your poems bemoaning intrigues at court, sniffing at the state of affairs, and criticizing officials. You’re like a man who assures his host he doesn’t drink, but then spends the entire party eyeing the drinks in others’ hands. Also: your landscapes are vacant, flat caricature. For you, the mountains and oceans seem to exist simply as motifs or symbols. I can’t see that you explored them on their terms, before you borrowed them over to stand in for truth or suffering or whatever else. The world empties of complexity and richness in your poems. Every person or event or thing is either this or that, virtuous or not, with Heaven or against Heaven, approved or disapproved. I’ll tell you honestly, Han Shan, sometimes I regret getting involved with you. The black-and-white judgement you’ve laid down saddens me and makes me brittle and irritable: how aware I am of your heavy hand over the centuries, casting us aside with a dramatic sniff.

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