Taoist poetry by 丘處機 a.k.a. 長春子, translated by Arthur Waley

This poetry is taken from The Travels of an Alchemist by Li Chih-Ch’ang, translated by Arthur Waley, which records the journey of the Taoist Master 長春子 (Qiu Chuji) or 長春子 (Chang Chun Zi) from northern China to Afghanistan at the summons of Genghis Khan, who was interested in extending his life.

Composed at a pleasant locale in northern China:

In the afternoon with face to the wind and back to the sun I walk,

To the far hills I stretch my eye; they are striped with a tangle of cloud.

From a thousand houses, their limbs baked by the cruel scorching of the sun,

With one accord the people plunge in the cool, clear stream.

In this northern country, as I come and go, the world shows me trust;

On the eastern mound, where I walk and play, the people give me room.

At the stream-side, my paddling over, I wander among the trees,

Loose my hair, open my shirt, and give way to Taoist dreams.

Quoted by 長春子; unclear to me if authored by him. Mentioned at a full moon celebration in February, 1221:

A little lump of foul flesh falls to the earth

And from it shoots a demon-sprout of Good and Ill

Fills with its leaves and laced branches the Three Worlds;

This mighty tree whose ceaseless growth entangles Time!

Composed on the night of a storm:

At night I lodged at the foot of Yin-shan;

A silent night, with no sound or stir.

Suddenly in the sky heavy clouds massed,

And a tempest shook the leaves of the great tree.

You speak of a voyage of ten thousand li;

Already we are come where winter knows no chill.

Whether I live or die, what matters it now?

Like thistle-down, I will go where I am blown.

Quoted by 長春子; unclear to me if authored by him:

A temporary compound of the Four Elements,

The body at last must suffer decay.

The soul, composed of one spiritual essence,

Is free to move wherever it will.

Composed before setting out to return home from Afghanistan:

For ten thousand li I have rode on a Government horse,

It is three years since I parted from my friends.

The weapons of war are still not at rest;

But of the Way and its workings I have had my chance to preach.

On an autumn night I spoke of the management of breath;

At Spring’s end I approach my native land.

When I think of returning to those numberless crowds

Deep in my heart are feelings too great to express.

Note: The “numberless crowds” refers to his many Taoist followers in China, according to Waley’s footnote.

About geese that were given to him:

They tended you to no purpose, save to bring you to the kitchen;

And only my kind intent saved you from becoming a meal.

In light skiff I took you out and set you among  the huge waves

There to wait till at autumn’s end your wings are fully grown.

Composed to resolve a dispute:

Sweep, sweep, sweep!

Sweep clear the heart till there is nothing left.

He with a heart that is clean-swept is called a « good man ».

A « good man » is all that is meant by « holy hsien » or « Fo ».

Arthur Waley’s footnote: The hsien (highest being of Taoism) and the Fo, i.e., Buddha (highest being of Buddhism) are simply « good men »; they do not belong to a separate order of beings.

Inscription written on a Taoist painting:

Of those Holy Beings who have obtained Tao how little the world knows!

In what age did these three hsien manifest their hidden power?

Of fearless teaching to the Powers of the Land they handed down the rule;

They passed their time in the midst of the world, yet remote as Ch’ih-sung.

Note: Ch’ih-sung was an ancient hsien.

Shortly before death:

On the western hills the air is fresh and pure;

After the rain the light clouds gleam,

With fellow-guests in a pleasant wood I sit,

Unheeded the Tao ripens and grows.

Valedictory poem:

Life and Death are but like morning and evening;

The transient foam comes and vanishes; but the stream goes on untroubled.

Where through a chink light appears, one can jump over the Crow and Hare,

When their magic power is fully disclosed they embrace the mountains and seas.

It reaches the remotest corners of the earth as though they were a foot away;

It breathes upon the myriad things as though it were the key-spring of Life.

These random words that my brush forms themselves will turn to dust,

Falling into the hands of worldly men who will not understand them aright.

Note: Waley’s footnote says the Crow and Hare designate the sun and moon.

長春子 died on 23 July 1227, roughly a month before Genghis Khan.


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